How Far Was the Growth in Support for Fascism in the Years 1919-22 Responsible for Mussolini’s Appointment as Prime Minister?

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The growth in support for fascism in this period was indeed a key factor in Mussolini’s appointment as prime minister because it helped to put him on the political map. However, the level of this support was simply not large enough to explain Mussolini’s rise on its own. More important was the fear of socialism that gripped much of Italy at this time, along with the need for strong and stable government. Mussolini showed great skill in positioning himself as the answer to these two problems at the same time as convincing the Italian establishment that he would be a responsible prime minister who would respect the constitution and control fascist violence. He may not have had huge popular support, but by 1922 significant numbers of the most influential Italians were prepared to tolerate him as the only acceptable alternative to the status quo. There was a very significant rise in support for the fascists from 1919-22 and this certainly helped Mussolini’s cause. From around 1000 members in 1919, the party could claim half a million members and 250,000 blackshirts by 1922. This mass support was significant because it enabled the fascists to gain a foothold in parliament, which was the first step towards Mussolini being offered the post of prime minster. Indeed, without the knowledge that this growing movement would win him votes, Giolitti would not have included fascists on the government list for the 1921 elections in the first place. However, the fascists still only won 7% of vote in 1921 elections, which corresponded to just 35 seats out of the 535 in the Chamber of Deputies. Clearly Mussolini was not swept to power on a wave of popular support and was certainly not in a position to demand the post of prime minister on this basis. In the event, the type of people supporting Mussolini proved to be far more important that the raw numbers. The lower middle classes
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