They took the name from the Latin fasces, a bundle of sticks wrapped around an ax. In ancient Rome, the fasces symbolized unity and authority.
Mussolini was a fiery and charismatic speaker. He promised to end corruption and replace turmoil with order. He also spoke of reviving Roman greatness, pledging to turn the Mediterranean into a “Roman lake” once again. He held a great deal of power over crowds when he gave his rousing speeches.
[Only joy at finding such a leader] can explain the enthusiasm [Mussolini] evoked at gathering after gathering, where his mere presence drew the people from all sides to greet him with frenzied acclamations. Even the men who first came out of mere curiosity and with indifference or even hostile feelings gradually felt themselves fired by his personal magnetic influence…
—Margherita G. Sarfhatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini (tr. Frederic Whyte)
Mussolini organized his supporters into “combat squads.” The squads wore black shirts to emulate an earlier nationalist revolt. These Black Shirts, or party militants, rejected the democratic process in favor of violent action. They broke up socialist rallies, smashed leftist presses, and attacked farmers' cooperatives. Fascist gangs used intimidation and terror to oust elected officials in northern Italy. Hundreds were killed as new gangs of Black Shirts sprang up all over Italy. Many Italians accepted these actions because they, too, had lost faith in constitutional government.
The fasces, a bundle of sticks wrapped around an ax, was an ancient Roman symbol of unity and authority. Fascists adopted the name and symbol for their party.
In 1922, the Fascists made a bid for power. At a rally in Naples, they announced their intention to go to Rome to demand that the government make changes. In the March on Rome, tens of thousands of Fascists swarmed toward the capital. Fearing civil war, King Victor Emmanuel III asked Mussolini to form a government as prime minister. Mussolini entered the city triumphantly on October 30, 1922. Without firing a shot, Mussolini thus obtained a legal appointment from the king to lead Italy.
How did postwar disillusionment contribute to Mussolini's rise?
At first, Fascists held only a few cabinet posts in the new government. By 1925, though, Mussolini had assumed more power and taken the title Il Duce (eel DOO chay), “The Leader.” He suppressed rival parties, muzzled the press, rigged elections, and replaced elected officials with Fascist supporters. In 1929, Mussolini received recognition from Pope Pius XI in return for recognizing Vatican City as an independent state, although the pope continued to disagree with some of Mussolini's goals.
In theory, Italy remained a parliamentary monarchy. In fact, it was a dictatorship upheld by terror. Critics were thrown into prison, forced into exile, or murdered. Secret police and propaganda bolstered the regime.
To spur economic growth and end conflicts between owners and workers, Mussolini brought the economy under state control. However, he preserved capitalism.
Under Mussolini's corporate state, representatives of business, labor, government, and the Fascist party controlled industry, agriculture, and trade. This policy did help business, and production increased. This success came at the expense of workers. They were forbidden to strike, and their wages were kept low.
To the Fascists, the individual was unimportant except as a member of the state. Men, women, and children were bombarded with slogans glorifying the state and Mussolini.