Excerpted from Luigi Villari, The Awakening of Italy: The Fascista Regeneration(London, 1924), pp. 171-188
On September 29th  an important gathering of Fascisti was held at Udine to consecrate the banners of various newly created Fasci of the Friuli, and Benito Mussolini delivered a notable speech containing an expose of the Fascista programme. After dwelling on the interventionist policy, which had given birth to the Fascista spirit, he spoke on foreign affairs, criticizing the “renunciatory” policy of successive Cabinets and deploring the unfortunate results of Signor Schanzer’s visit to London, where, he stated, Italy’s Minister for Foreign Affairs submitted to treatment at the hands of Mr. Lloyd George “of which a representative of San Marino would have been ashamed.” He significantly alluded to the existence of the Fascista Army by the side of the National Army, with its glorious traditions, a fact which he regarded as fortunate for Italy. He then made some very important declarations on the attitude of Fascismo towards the Monarchy. In a previous pronouncement he had declared that Fascismo was “tendentially Republican,” as we have seen, and although he afterwards attenuated that statement, explaining that he merely meant that Fascismo might prefer Republicanism in theory, but that in the case of Italy to-day Monarchy had its advantages, a number of persons who sympathized with Fascista policy hesitated to endorse it entirely because they were attached to Monarchical principles. But at Udine Mussolini declared:
” I believe that the Monarchy has no interest in opposing what we must already call the Fascista revolution. It is not its interest to do so, because if it did it would become a target, and in that case we should be unable to spare it, because it would be for us a question of life or death. He who sympathizes with us cannot withdraw into the shadow; he must remain in the light. We must have the courage to be Monarchists. Why are we Republicans ? In a certain sense because we see a Monarch who is not sufficiently a Monarch. Monarchy represents the historic continuity of the nationÃ‘an admirable function, a task of incalculable historic importance. On the other hand, we must prevent the Fascista revolution from staking everything. We must reconstruct: qui si parra la tua nobilitate.”
The speech met with the most widespread approval. It satisfied those who believed in MonarchyÃ‘and they are the majority of the nationÃ‘and in particular it pleased the Army and the Navy, whose officers felt that their sympathy with Fascista aims did not conflict with their oath of allegiance to the Crown. Mussolini’s hints at a revolution, which were a repetition of what he had said in the Chamber in the previous July, were still regarded as mere figures of speech. A few days later, speaking at Cremona to a gathering of many thousands of Black Shirts, he asked: “What is that subtle emotion which we all feel when we hear the notes of the ‘ Canzone del Piave ‘ ? It means that the Piave is not an end. From the Piave, from Vittorio Veneto, from that most glorious victory, mutilated though it has been by a pusillanimous diplomacy, our banners move forward. It is from the banks of the Piave that we have set forth on our march, which will not cease until we have reached our final goalÃ‘Rome. And there will be no obstacles, neither men nor things, able to hold us up.” Again, on October 5th, at Milan, Mussolini sounded a warning note. In extolling the Fascisti of Milan who had risked death in their assault on the Communist headquarters at the Avanti offices, he said: “This is violence. This is the violence of which I approve, which I extol. This is the violence of the Milan Fascio. And Italian Fascismo should make it its own. Not the small individual act of violence, but the great, fine, inexorable violence of decisive hours…. In war-time let us adopt the Socratic formula: We must overcome our friends in good deeds, our enemies in evil deeds.” The Corriere della Sera, he added, has declared that there are two Governments in Italy, and that the nation cannot live with two Governments; quite soÃ‘there is one Government too many, and of the two the Fascista Government is by far the best. He quoted as evidence of this the Bolzano episode and that of San Terenzio, where, after the terrible explosion of the fort, it was the Fascisti who came to the rescue at once, carried the wounded to the hospitals, buried the dead, cleared the ruins, fed the hungry, and protected abandoned property from thieves, long before the constituted authorities appeared on the scene. He also reminded his hearers of the duties of all citizens towards the nation. “The Fascisti did not shed their blood to protect the interests of individuals or castes or classes. They did not shed it for the sake of material goods, but for the sake of an idea, of the spirit, of all that is most noble, most beautiful, most generous, most splendid in the human soul.” This was the answer to those who accused Fascismo of acting in the interests of the rich against the poor, of the employers against the employed.
The whole country was now waiting anxiously for some decisive action on the part of the Fascisti, but no one had any idea as to what it was to be. A march on Rome had often been talked about, and Mussolini made no secret of his intentions in that connexion; but most people still regarded this plan as either fantastic or merely symbolical. The strike of August 1st with which the Facta Cabinet had been unable to cope, but which the Fascisti had crushed, was the best proof of the utter incapacity of the Government, while the general support of all the best part of Italian public opinion justified a bold action.
At the end of September the Fascista party directorate held a meeting in Rome, where it entrusted Mussolini with the fullest mandate to carry out a political and, if necessary, military action to establish Fascismo in power. Mussolini had his plan of campaign ready, and now that he was invested with adequate authority he communicated it to Michele Bianchi, the general secretary of the party, and a few intimates. In the meanwhile another great Fascista gathering was summoned at Naples for the end of October, when, under the guise of a party congress, a general review of the Fascista forces was to be held. On October 24h the congress opened, and some 40,000 Fascisti in military formation and perfectly disciplined paraded through the streets of Naples amid the enthusiastic demonstrations of the people, including 20,000 working-men. On the evening of that day Mussolini delivered a great speech at the San Carlo Theatre, in which he repeated his now well-known views on foreign affairs, internal politics, finance, etc.; above all he insisted once more on the devotion of Fascismo to the Monarchy. The dilemma which he placed before Parliament was, he said, “legality or illegality ? Parliamentary conquest or insurrection ?” At Milan he had demanded a general election at an early date with a reformed electoral law. The events of Bolzano had revealed the paralysis of the State, and the Fascisti demanded a dissolution and that the State should abandon its preposterous neutrality between the national and the anti-national forces. “We have demanded severe financial measures, the adjournment of the evacuation of the Third Zone in Dalmatia, five portfolios for the Fascisti, viz. the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, War, Marine, Labour, and Public Works, and the Commissionership of Aviation.” Mussolini himself preferred to remain outside the Cabinet. To these demands the Government had given no answer, or rather had sent a ridiculous reply, talking of Fascista ministers without portfolios. “It is not,” he continued,” a question of setting up any sort of Government, more or less capable of existing; what we have in view is the introduction into the Liberal State, which has fulfilled its functionsÃ‘and they have been splendid functions indeed and are not forgotten by usÃ‘of all the forces of the new generation of Italians who have emerged from the war and the victory. This is essential, not only for the objectives of the State, but also for those of history and of the nation.” He repeated his acceptance of the monarchical idea and his devotion to the Army. “Let the Army know and remember that we, a handful of bold men, have defended it when Ministers were advising officers to go about in mufti so as to avoid conflicts.”
In another speech, delivered the same day at the review of the Fascisti, he said: “I tell you with all the solemnity which the moment demandsÃ‘it is a question of days, perhaps of hoursÃ‘either the Government will be given to us or we shall seize it by marching on Rome.” There could be no doubt as to the meaning of these words, which were received with thunderous applause and loud shouts of “To Rome ! ”
That same evening at I0 p.m. the famous quadrumvirate was formed, composed of Michele Bianchi, Dr. Italo Balbo, the commander of the Fascista forces, Signor De Vecchi, an ex-officer decorated with a gold medal for valour, and General De Bono, who had greatly distinguished himself during the war as commander of the Ninth Corps on Monte Grappa, and who, as we have seen, had organized the Fascista forces. To the quadrumvirate Signor Dino Grandi, another decorated ex-officer, elected deputy in 1921, but excluded from Parliament because he was under thirty, was attached and entrusted with all the political functions of the enterprise. The Naples Congress had by now lost all interest in view of the greater events which were maturing, and rapidly broke up. Mussolini ordered the Fascisti to return at once to their homes and to keep themselves in readiness for a further call to action. The next day De Vecchi and Grandi met to concert the first move, which was to inform the King of the gravity of the situation and induce the Facta Cabinet to resign. This task was entrusted to two leaders of the Liberals in whom the Fascisti had full confidenceÃ‘Signori Salandra and OrlandoÃ‘the former being asked in the first place to call on Facta to resign. This he did on the 26th, but the Premier hesitated for a while, as he considered that resignation would be a dereliction of duty and appear too closely akin to flight. Further, he wished to consult the oracleÃ‘ GiolittiÃ‘who was at Cavour, his summer villeggiatura. Salandra then requested Facta to ask the King, then at San Rossore near Pisa, to return to Rome; to this Facta agreed, and the King returned to the capital the following evening. The result of these negotiations was that the other members of the Cabinet placed their resignations in the Premier’s hands, but the latter did not resign, and the Cabinet continued to remain in office. Grandi then called on Orlando, who had just returned from Cavour, and asked him to try to induce Facta to resign; Giolitti had told Orlando that he too thought that the Cabinet could no longer continue to remain in power in present circumstances, and that a new Cabinet, with himself (Giolitti) or one of his followers as Premier, should take its place. But this attempt to return to power, directly or by proxy, failed, as the days of Giolittism were past. However, Facta decided to follow his former chief’s advice, and on the night of February 27th the Cabinet resigned.
In the meanwhile De Vecchi, Grandi, and the Fascista staff had established their head-quarters at Perugia, and the general mobilization order of the Fascista forces had been issued. Large masses of Black Shirts had concentrated in all the chief towns of Italy, while others were gathering round Rome to march on the capital as soon as the word of command should be given. What was causing the leaders of the movement the deepest anxiety was the fear of a conflict between the Fascisti and the Army, to which the immense majority of the former had belonged and to which all were profoundly attached. A similar anxiety filled the hearts of the Army officers themselves, who dreaded having to order their men to fire on those who had always stood up for the Army against the revolutionary forces and their accomplices in the Government, and who were only inspired by a desire to save Italy from ruin.
Yet another issue was raised by the Holy See. In view of a probable march on Rome the Pope sent a message to De Vecchi and Grandi asking them what attitude the Fascisti would assume towards the Church. The answer was wholly reassuring. Mussolini had always shown the greatest deference towards the Catholic Church as embodying the religion of the vast majority of the Italian people; strict orders were now issued that the Fascisti should abstain from quartering themselves in churches, and in general from any action derogatory to the interests or dignity of the Church. This was part of Mussolini’s policy of divorcing the Church from the Partito Popolare.
De Vecchi and Grandi, before going to Perugia, had informed the King, through an intermediary, of the intentions of the Fascisti. On the morning of the 28th Signor Federzoni, the leader of the Nationalist party, telephoned to De Vecchi that the King wished to see him, and De Vecchi at once returned to Rome with Grandi. In many towns the Fascista action had already commenced, detachments of Black Shirts occupying the prefectures, police stations, post and telegraph offices, etc., and here and there conflicts with the troops and police had occurred; at Cremona and two or three other places blood had been shed, but these incidents were very few and in no case serious. When De Vecchi and Grandi reached Rome they learned a very grave piece of newsÃ‘that martial law had been proclaimed by the Government throughout Italy. This implied the general conflict between the Fascisti and the forces of the Crown which they so deeply dreaded. Measures were being taken by the authorities to prevent the Fascisti from entering the capital, and although they appeared to be of a somewhat childish and inefficient nature, civil war seemed inevitable. The newspapers had been suspended in Rome and all wheeled traffic held up, while in Milan and some other towns the Fascisti established a censorship and stopped the publication of certain papers opposed to their policy; even the Corriere della Sera, which, in spite of its undoubted patriotism and sympathy with Fascista ideals, criticized the present revolutionary movement, was suspendedÃ‘one of the few acts committed by the Fascisti during the October days which must be regarded as blameworthy.
But De Vecchi and Grandi were reassured by another gold-medallist Fascista leader, the deputy Costanzo Ciano, who during the war had served under D’Annunzio in the Buccari enterprise and afterwards commanded the “Mas” flotilla. Ciano told them what had happened at that fateful interview between the King and Facta on the same morning of the 28th. The Premier had gone to the King to obtain the Royal signature to the decree proclaiming martial law. But His Majesty, with that political instinct which has always distinguished him on critical occasions, refused to signÃ‘he knew that its application would inevitably involve civil war, with all its awful consequences. Signor Facta then told the King that it was too late to refuse his signature as the decree had already been issued to the Prefects and communicated to the Press. The King, greatly incensed at the lack of respect to himself and to the Royal prerogative implied by this quite irregular and illegal procedure, retorted that Signor Facta evidently ignored constitutional law, and enjoined on him to revoke the decree at once. The Prime Minister returned to the Patazzo Viminale [The new building where the Ministry of the Interior is housed.] and carried out His Majesty’s injunctions. The martial law decree was withdrawn but a few hours after it had been issued, and the danger of civil war warded off. The decision was immediately communicated to the Press and caused intense relief throughout the country.
Signor Salandra, who had been seeing the Fascista leaders repeatedly, was now entrusted with the formation of a Cabinet. He realized that things had now gone too far for a Cabinet of the old parliamentary type to be possible, as the Fascisti were predominant throughout the country; but out of deference for the King he undertook to make the attempt. At the King’s request he conducted De Vecchi to the Quirinal, where His Majesty opened the conversation with the declaration: “I want the Italian people to know that I refused to sign the martial law decree,” and added after a short pause, “Perhaps within a week they will have forgotten it.” “No, Your Majesty,” the Fascista leader replied; “they shall not forget. We shall make them remember ! ”
Later on the same day Salandra summoned De Vecchi, Grandi, and Ciano, and offered them portfolios in his Cabinet. But they would not give a definite reply until they had communicated with their chief Mussolini, who was still at Milan. The next morning (the 29th) they were able to get through to Mussolini on the telephone and communicated Salandra’s proposal to him. His reply was curt and uncompromising, but decisive: “I refuse, because I do not wish the Fascista victory to be mutilated.” This course was the right one, as a Coalition Government would have lacked the unity and absolute authority which were now necessary. Salandra therefore gladly resigned his mandate, and recommended the King to send for Mussolini. De Vecchi and Grandi realized that an immediate solution was imperative. A hundred thousand Fascisti were closing in on Rome from all parts of Italy, and a conflict with the troops, which the least incident might provoke, must at all costs be prevented. Mussolini had purposely kept away from Rome so as not to be involved in the negotiations for forming a Cabinet. De Vecchi and Grandi now called on General Cittadini, First A.D.C. to the King, and implored him to have Mussolini summoned at once. The reply was that the King intended to do so, and Grandi and Polverelli, the Rome correspondent of the Popolo d’Italia, with great difficulty, owing to the disorganization of the telephone service, managed to get through to Mussolini and inform him of the King’s decision. But Mussolini said that he would not come to Rome until he had actually received the royal summons. In the meanwhile, however, the King’s telegram had reached him, and he started for Rome at once.
The Fascisti had begun by taking peaceful possession of Perugia, the head-quarters of the movement. The order to arrest the Fascista leaders was received by telephone at Perugia by the men actually “wanted,” who sent a suitable reply. The whole of Italy was now divided into zones, each commanded by a Fascista leader, and while a part of the forces were detailed for local occupations, the march on Rome was entrusted to a body of 70,000 men, afterwards increased by 20,000 more from Foligno. Another reserve under the Pugliese deputy Caradonna and Captain Padovani was formed in Southern Italy, but was never called into action. In order to avoid all possibility of conflict with the troops, Mussolini had expressly provided that to each of the columns marching on Rome should be attached a distinguished general who had joined the FascistiÃ‘De Bono, whom I have already mentioned; Fara, a hero of many African campaigns, of the Isonzo, and the Bainsizza, and a gold medallist; the gallant Sante Ceccherini, said to be the most decorated soldier in Italy; Zamboni, who earned his gold medal in the Asiago area when in command of the Liguria Brigade; and others. One column concentrated at Santa Marinella, near Civitavecchia, under the Marquis Dino Perrone Compagni of Florence, another at Monterotondo under General Fara and Ulisse Igliori (gold medallist, wounded four times); another between Tivoli and Valmontone, commanded by Bottai, deputy for Rome.
De Vecchi and Grandi, who had returned to Perugia, started for Rome on the morning of the 30th. On reaching Ponte Nomentano they learned that the Monterotondo column was already entering Rome amid the frenzied enthusiasm of the people. It had reached Orte by train on the previous day, and there learned that the line had been cut by the authorities beyond the station; while an advanced guard pushed forward beyond the interruption and then on to Monterotondo by train, the line was repaired so as to enable the rest of the force and the provision trains to pass. On the 30th the first columns under Fara and Igliori entered Rome through Porta PiaÃ‘the same gate through which General Raffaele Cadorna had led his troops on September 20, I870. The forces from the Abruzzi descended from Avezzano to Tivoli, where they could control part of the electric and water supply of the capital; a number of the men found shelter in the Villa d’Este, and a special detachment was told off to protect the famous building and gardens, which in fact suffered no injury at all. The population provided hot meals for the Black Shirts. The only regrettable incident occurred at Valmontone, where some Communists murdered the Fascista Lulli, but the column commander, Bottai, prevented reprisals. On the 30th some I0,000 men of this force started for Rome by train from Tivoli, the railwaymen on this line being all Fascisti, while the rest proceeded on foot. At Tor Sapienza, a picturesque Campagna tower, the trains could go no further and the I0,000 continued their march by road. At Ponte Mammolo, General Piola-Caselli, of the Rome garrison, advised Bottai to enter the city by a more devious route so as to avoid the San Lorenzo quarter, a notorious hotbed of Anarchists and Communists, but Bottai refused to take this advice and led his men into Rome through the Porta Tiburtina and San Lorenzo; here some incidents occurred, as several shots were fired on the Fascisti, who retaliated by killing some Communists, including those suspected of complicity for the killing of Fascisti in the same quarter in June. The Perrone column had come by rail from Tuscany to Santa Marinella, and there had to encamp in the open without shelter from the pouring rain, and almost without food. This force too entered the capital on the 30th. Rome was now filled with Fascisti, whose conduct, save for a few isolated incidents, was absolutely exemplary.
Mussolini reached Rome on the morning of the same day from Milan. At many of the stations along the line he had been greeted by enthusiastic demonstrations. On reaching Rome he met a detachment of the 15th Infantry on duty in the station; he approached the colonel and shook hands with him, saying, “My first greeting on treading the sacred soil of Rome is for the glorious Army of Vittorio Veneto. I shall be greatly obliged to you if you will transmit this message to your superiors and your inferiors.” Without losing another moment he hurried to the Quirinal and presented himself to the King, still in his black shirt. His first words were, “I beg Your Majesty’s forgiveness for appearing in my black shirt, but I have only just returned from the battle, fortunately a bloodless one, which we have had to wage. I bring to Your Majesty the Italy of Vittorio Veneto, reconsecrated by the new victory, and declare myself the devoted servant of Your Majesty.”
The allusion to Vittorio Veneto, which frequently occurs in Mussolini’s pronouncements, is significant. For the Fascisti, and indeed for all patriotic Italians, Vittorio Veneto, the great battle which brought Italy’s hereditary enemy to the dust, is a symbol of Italy’s effort throughout the war and of the country’s national revival. The memory of this victory proved the antidote to the poison gas of Bolshevism and anti-patriotism which successive Governments since the Armistice had allowed to develop.
Mussolini presented the Cabinet list, which he had drawn up before leaving Milan, to the King, whose comment on it was, “The excellent and well-balanced composition of the list could not have been happier.” It was approved at once, and the various men whose names were contained in it accepted without hesitation.
The new Premier’s first task was to provide for the immediate departure of the Black Shirts, whose presence was no longer necessary and might lead to trouble. The immense cortege first went to pay its tribute to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the monument to Victor Emmanuel; it then marched up the Via Nazionale, and Via 24 Maggio to the Quirinal to pay homage to the King. The beautiful piazza was thronged with people, and every window and roof black with spectators. The King appeared at the balcony between General Diaz, now Minister of War, and his colleague Admiral Thaon di Revel, Minister of Marine. Slowly the hundred thousand Black Shirts, comprising the pick of Italy’s youth, marched past the King, whom they saluted in ancient Roman style, the right arm outstretched, and cheered again and again. Never had there been such a magnificent demonstration of loyalty to the Crown as this homage paid to it by the army of “revolutionists.” From the Quirinal the Fascisti went to Villa Borghese, where they were reviewed by Mussolini. That same evening they departed from the capital and returned to their homes. Their discipline had been admirable throughout. Hardly an act of violence had been committed, not an instance of vandalism, pillage, or riotous behaviour had occurred. [Except the aforesaid incidents at San Lorenzo, and also the murder of certain Communists who had fled from the provinces to Rome and were now killed by their fellow-townsmen.] Their own “Intendenza” had as far as possible provided food for this great army; 2 where the Intendenza did not arrive the population supplied the deficiency, and where even these gifts did not suffice the men went hungry without a murmur. But their orderly departure a few hours after they had entered Rome in triumph was perhaps their most remarkable achievement. [The Intendenza gave receipts for the supplies, and eventually full payment was effected by subscriptions raised among the Fascisti and their sympathizers. The Premier was determined that no State funds should pay for the march on Rome.]
The composition of the new Cabinet was as follows: Benito Mussolini was of course Prime Minister, and according to the Italian political tradition he assumed the portfolio of the Interior, but also that of Foreign Affairs; it was thought at first that he intended to retain the latter only temporarily, but as a matter of fact he still keeps both. He was assisted by three Under SecretariesÃ‘Acerbo at the Presidency of the Council, Aldo Finzi at the Interior, and Ernesto Vassallo at the Foreign Office, the two former prominent Fascisti, the latter a Popolare. General Diaz became Minister of War, thus reviving the system of having a general at the War Office, after the not very happy results of appointing civilians, with the Social Democrat Bonardi as Under Secretary; Admiral Thaon di Revel, Minister of Marine, with the Fascista Ciano as Under Secretary for the Mercantile Marine. The Ministry of Finance was entrusted to the Fascista Professor De Stefani, perhaps the most eminent specialist in the whole Cabinet, with the Social Democrat Lissia as Under Secretary; and that of the Treasury to Professor Tangorra, Popolare, with the Nationalist Professor Alfredo Rocco as Under Secretary; Duke Colonna di Cesaro’, Social Democrat and nephew of Baron Sonnino, became Postmaster-General, with the Fascista Caradonna as Under Secretary; the Nationalist Luigi Federzoni, Minister of the Colonies, with the Liberal Marchi as Under Secretary; Cesare De Vecchi, Under Secretary for Pensions; the Liberal Professor Giovanni Gentile, Minister of Education, with the Fascista Dario Lupi and the Nationalist Luigi Siciliani as Under Secretaries; the Liberal De Capitani d’Arzago, Minister of Agriculture, with Corgini, Fascista, as Under Secretary; the Social Democrat Carnazza, Minister of Public Works, with the Fascista Sardi as Under Secretary; the Giolittian Democrat Teofilo Rossi, Minister of Industry and Trade, with the Popolare Gronchi as Under Secretary; the Popolare Stefano Cavazzoni, Minister of Labour, with the Fascista Gay as Under Secretary; General Douhet, Commissioner for Military Aviation; and Mercanti, Commissioner for Civilian Aviation.
Mussolini thus formed a Cabinet which, although predominantly Fascista, comprised members of all the chief parliamentary groups except the anti-national Socialists and Communists. Teofilo Rossi and Carnazza represented the Democratic group, to which Giolitti and Orlando belongedÃ‘Rossi had in fact been minister both in the late Cabinet and under Giolitti. The participation of the Popolari might appear in the light of a contradiction, but it should be remembered that that party comprised a Right as well as a Left wing, and the statesmen selected by Mussolini belonged to the former. Professor Tangorra did not remain long in office; he had to resign on the grounds of ill-health and died almost immediately after. The selection of General Diaz and Admiral Thaon di Revel was particularly significant of Mussolini’s attitude, inasmuch as they were closely associated with the Italian victory, the former had been Commander-in-Chief during the last phase of the war, and the latter Chief of the Naval Staff. The reason why Mussolini composed his Cabinet on so wide a basis was that, once in power, he wished to adhere as closely as possible to constitutional methods. The manner in which he came into power was in itself of course irregular, but the fact that the King had entrusted the formation of the Cabinet to a statesman with a very small parliamentary following was by no means unconstitutional. Article 65 of the Statuto declares in fact that “the King appoints and dismisses his Ministers,” and does not in any way limit his freedom of choice. It is only parliamentarism that has created the practice the Cabinet must be formed by a statesman commanding a majority in Parliament, or at all events that the parliamentary situation must be taken into consideration. One of the main objects of the Fascista policy was to combat and demolish the artificial structure which a degenerate parliamentarism had imposed on the country to its great detriment. Mussolini rightly claimed that, while his parliamentary following was small, his following in the country was immense. This contrast produced an impossible situation, inasmuch as the Chamber no longer represented public opinion. To give but one example, the Socialist party was represented by over I20 deputies (Communists excluded), out of a total of 535 members, i.e. over one quarter of the whole, whereas at their last congress they mustered as we have seen, barely 62,000 adherents. Hence the necessity, even according to constitutional rules, of a Fascista Cabinet, or at least one in which the Fascisti should be the predominant element. But once this result was obtained, Mussolini wished to secure the support of all the other national parties. Subsequently the situation could be regularized by a general election. But the election was not to be held until a measure of electoral reform had been introduced capable of securing a more adequate representation of public opinion and greater stability for the Government. This problem was one of those which had yet to be solved.
What struck foreign observers in the Fascista movement of October and caused many friends of Italy serious misgivings was just this irregular manner in which Mussolini had come into power. In Italy herself a certain section of public opinion, including that represented by the Corriere della Sera and the classical Liberal school, while sympathizing with the aims of the Fascisti, disapproved of their methods. There is no doubt that their action had been revolutionary, and revolutions in themselves are not desirable. But it must be admitted that the country was in such a desperate condition owing to the incompetence, inefficiency, and feebleness of its governing class and the dishonesty of many leading politicians, and indeed to the break-down of the whole machinery of government, that only a revolutionary change could bring about any real improvement. Nitti had openly favoured the Socialist and Bolshevik elements; his successors, while professing a more patriotic policy, usually gave way to the violence of the Reds, and when popular reaction, embodied in Fascismo, also adopted violent methods on the principle of vim vi repellere, they submitted to this form of violence as well, and proved incapable of preventing the daily conflicts which occurred between Fascisti, Communists, Socialists, and Popolari. To the mass of the Italian public the illegality of the Fascista action was more than justified by the inaction of the State; while the Reds and even the Popolari were constantly breaking the laws the State failed to punish the law-breakers, and it was not until the Fascisti appeared on the scene that anything was done, albeit under illegal forms, to bring them to book. In districts where the mass of the hard-working citizens had for three years been tyrannized over and subjected to extortions and outrages at the hands of Communist capilega, the action of the Fascisti in breaking the power and sometimes the heads of these gentry, in forcing them to imbibe castor oil, in burning the clubs and co-operative stores where the Reds had their head-quarters, appeared in the light of a veritable liberation.
Another aspect of the Fascista action which secured their popularity was the manner in which they stood up for the patriotic idea. The outrages and insults which the Reds had heaped on the war, the Army, the tricolour flag, the men who had been disabled and the memory of the fallen, and the hatred they showed for Italy herself and their cringing obedience to Bolshevik Russia, if they were tolerated after the awful strain of the four years’ struggle, soon produced a reaction, and the people realized the spiritual significance of the war and of Italy’s share in it. Italy had fought no war since 1866 except the disastrous campaign of Adua, which had almost broken the national spirit of the people, and while the Tripoli campaign might have revived it to some extent, its inefficient political management under the cynical Giolittian Government annulled the effects. The World War and its victorious conclusion at last gave the Italian people the pride of real nationhood and a sense of racial dignity; these sentiments the Socialist-Communist gang tried to wipe out and to substitute a degrading and demoralizing materialism in their place. The Fascisti voiced the reaction which this contemptible attitude ended by arousing. Fascista violence was therefore regarded by all that was best in Italian public opinion as a necessary, if heroic remedy. Fascismo also won over the working masses to the patriotic idea.
It should further be remembered that the violence committed on both sides was to a large extent the result of the exuberant nature of the Italian people, intensified by four years of the most terrible war recorded in history. In every country crimes of violence have been much more frequent since the war, but in Italy the seed sown produced a crop which often amounted to real revolutionary activity. Many events which occurred in Italy during this stormy period impressed foreign and not always friendly critics as signs of impending catastrophe. On more than one occasion excited British, American, and French editors sent off their best special correspondents post haste to Italy to produce highly coloured accounts of the imminent explosion; but on reaching their destination these eager and expectant journalists found everything apparently quiet, and had to ask their way to the nearest revolution, which they learned could not be found anywhere nearer than Russia. The real danger for Italy was not so much Bolshevism, which would probably have never been a danger at all if it had not been nursed and encouraged by Nitti, but the gradual demoralization which Socialist, Communist, and demagogic influence involved. Similarly, the Fascista movement was absolutely misunderstood by the great majority of foreigners, and would indeed have been inconceivable in any other country. A revolution in which the authority of the State is flouted and set at naught, but the King and the Army are wildly cheered, in which the revolutionists only demand the re-establishment of law and order, respect for life and property, equal justice for all without distinction of class, retrenchment and economy in the administration, more and harder work for all, self-sacrifice and austerity of life for the common good, and a Government born of this revolution which abstains from vengeance on its beaten enemies, are indeed marvellous phenomena. We shall see in the following chapters how Mussolini and the Fascisti are endeavouring to make good, and the large measure of success which has hitherto attended their efforts.