Room 1 – FASCISM

The origins of Fascism

Fascism arose in Italy due to the imbalances

caused by the Great War, in a relatively

young, undeveloped and divided nation. The

liberal ruling class revealed themselves to be

inadequate for the dynamics of the twentieth-

century policy becoming divided owing to

their choices of intervention and incapable of

overseeing the post-war tension.

The traditional opposition parties, despite

having achieved an important electoral success,

remained internally divided. Especially the

Socialists, who faced three divisions between

1921 and 1923, spread a revolutionary rhetoric

that increased the fears of the middle classes.

Also decisive was the king’s decision to refrain

from using violence against the rising Fascism.

The conquest of power

On the 23rd March 1919 the Fascist movement

was founded in San Sepolcro Square in Milan;

three years later the PNF members, the first

party of the country, were 322,000. This

sudden rise was because of two factors. First,

the vicious use of violence by the squads

especially in Val Padana where the landowners

were armed against the red and white leagues.

Then, there was Mussolini’s ability to exploit

the frustrations and fears, which permeated

Italian society that had just come out of the


The authoritarian turn

Within two years, the press and strike freedoms

were banned. All of the oppositions were

declared outlaw. Administrative elections were

abolished and political ones were transformed

into the Fascist referendums (in 1939, this last

apparent form of democracy was liquidated).

Fascism used repressive methods and applied

new ones, such as the Special Court for the

State Security and the Secret Police (OVRA).

The National Corps cohesion was also fuelled

by identification, stigmatisation and repression

of enemies who threatened its homogeneity

from the inside, for example anti-Fascist and

antisocial groups, half-castes

and finally, Jews.

Reasons and limits of consent

Modern dictatorships combined the use of

violence with ideological persuasion and

forced mobilization. Consequently, Fascism

concerned itself with involving and organizing

the population. It did this through new means

of communication, particularly through the

cinema and the radio and with the social

classification into mass organisations, such as

ONMI, ONB, OND. Above all, it built a political

religion, whose centre was the myth of the


”[Mussolini] presents himself as the monolith. An

entire piece: if this piece is in a room, the room

seems to go around it; if this piece is among the

population, the population surrounds it, organises

itself as a pyramid and spontaneously accepts

this piece as the vertex.’’ (Vitaliano Brancati)

After the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929,

which was the start of the corporate system

and the “Empire conquest”, the regime reached

its height of consent, but the easy victories in

Africa, Spain and Albania fuelled remarkable

illusions. The German approach had heavy


in 1938, the Racist Laws were

released, then in 1940, “the time of irrevocable

decisions” had arrived.