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In 1919 Benito Mussolini, one-time socialist and journalist, founded the Fascist Party, with its hallmarks of the black shirt and Roman salute. These were to become symbols of violent oppression and aggressive nationalism for the next 23 years. In 1921 the party won 35 of the 135 seats in parliament. In October 1922 the king asked Mussolini to form a government, and thus he began his domination of Italy. With an expedition of 40,000 Fascist militia, he began the famous march on Rome to 'free the nation from the socialists'/

In April 1924, following a political campaign marked by violence and intimidation, the Fascist Party won the national elections and Mussolini created the world's fisrts Fascist regime. By 1925 the term 'totalitarianism' had come into use. By the end of that year Mussolini had expelled opposition parties from parliament, gained control of the press and trade unions and had rescinded the right to vote from two-thirds of the electorate. In 1929 Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty, whereby Catholicism was declared the sole religion of Italy and the Vatican was recognised as an independant state. In return, the papacy finally acknowlegded the united Kingdom of Italy.

In the 1920's Mussolini embarked on an aggressive foreign policy, leading to skirmishes with Greece over the island of Corfu and to military expeditions against nationalist forces in the Italian colony of Libya. In 1935 Italy sough a new colonial conquest through the invasion of Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) from the Italian base in Eritrea, but took seven months to capture Addis Ababa. The act was condemned by the League of Nations, which imposed limited sanctions on Italy.

Fearful of international isolation, Mussolini formed the Axis with Hitler in 1936. They were soon joined by Japan and in June 1940 Italy entered WWII as an ally of Germany.

After a series of military disasters and the landing of the Allied armies on Sicily on 10 July 1943, Mussolini was faced not only with increasing discontent among Italians and diminishing support for Fascism but also with Hitler's refusal to assign more troops to defend southern Italy. Two weeks after the Allied landing, the king of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele III, led a coup against Mussolini and had him arrested.

In the confused period that followed now known as the 45 days, Italy erupted in a seried of massive demonstrations demanding an end to the war. The king signed an armistice with the Allies that amounted to an unconditional surrender and declared war on Germany, but it was too late to prevent the takeover of northern Italy by Nazi troops. As the Allies moved painfully up through the south of the Italian peninsula, the Germans began their campaign of brutal suppression in the north, prompting the formation of the Resistance.

The Germand rescued Mussolini from his prison on the Gran Sasso in what is now Abrizzo and installed him as head of the Republic of Salo' in the north. By now completely demoralised, Mussolini was nothing more than a German puppet. He was captured and shot along with his mistress, Clara Petacci, by partianism in April 1945 and then hung upside down from the roof of a petrol station in Milan's Piazzale Loreto.

The famous fascist, Benito Mussolini


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King Vittorio Emanuele III


Members of the Resistance, which conservative estimates put at more than 100,000 in early 1945, managed to gain control of small areas of the north and played a significant role in liberating. Florence from the Germans in August 1944. The Nazi response to partisan attacks was savage. Whole villages were exterminated; in one of the most notorious reprisals, 1830 men, women and children were murdered by an SS battalion at Marzabotto, south of Bologna, on 1 October 1944. In March of that year urban partisans had blown up 32 military police in Rome. In reprisal, the Germans shot 335 prisoners at the Fosse Adreatine, just outside the city.

Northern Italy was finally liberated by May 1945 after Allied troops broke through German lines. The Resistance had suffered huge losses and its contribution to the Allied victory did not go unacknowledged. These people had fought not only against German and fascist oppression but also for an ideal of social and political change - and after the war they wanted to put that ideal into action. The Allies, meanwhile, were wondering how to deal with what amounted to a massive, armed, left-wing movement whose leaders spoke often of insurrection.


The Resistance was disarmed, either voluntarily or by force, as Italy's political forces scrambled to regroup. The USA, through the economic largesse of the Marshall Plan, wielded considerable political influence in the country and no doubt used this in attempts to keep the left, of which it was highly suspicious, in check.

Immediately after the war three coalition governments succeeded one another. The third, which came to power in December 1945, was dominated by the newly formed Democrazia Cristiana (DC: Christian Democrats), led by Alcide de Gasperi, who remained prime minister until 1953.

In 1946, following a referendum, the constitutional monarchy was abolished and a republic established, with the DC winning the majority of votes at the first post-war elections. The Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI: Communist Party), led by Palmiro Togliatti, and the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI; Socialist Party), led by Pietro Nenni, participated in coalition governments until 1947, when de Gasperi formed a government that excluded the left.


By the early 1950s the country's economy had begun to show strong signs of recovery, although the more impoverished and less industrialised south lagged behind. To counter this, the government formed the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (State Fund for the South) in 1950, which would eventually pour trillions of lire into development projects in the southern regions.

In 1958 Italy became a founding member of the European Economic Community (EEC) and this signalled the beginning of the Economic Miracle, a period of significant economic growth that saw unemployment drop as industry expanded. A major feature of this period was the development of Italy's automobile industry and, more particularly, of Fiat in Turin, which sparked a massive migration of peasants from the south to the north in search of work.

Although it was the only major party not to participate in the government of the country, the PCI nevertheless played a crucial role in Italy's social and political development well into the 1980s. The party steadily increased its share of the poll at each election and always had more card-carrying members than the DC, but the spectre of European communism and the Cold War continued to undermine its chances of participating in government.

By the mid-1960s Italy's economic strength was waning and social unrest was becoming commonplace. Togliatti, the long serving leader of the PCI, died in 1964. His policy of cooperation with the DC in the interests of national unity had played a significant role in avoiding serious social conflict. One year earlier, Aldo Moro had been appointed prime minister, a position he held until 1968. It was Moro who invited the PSI into government in 1963; 15 years later, he was moving towards a historic compromise that would have allowed the communists to enter government for the first time. This prompted his kidnapping and murder by the Brigate Rosse (BR; Red Brigades) terrorist group.

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