Although the attempted coup of the US Capitol should not have shocked the world, it nonetheless did just that. On 6th January 2021, a date now forever embedded in history, there was an insurrection on the very core of the US democratic system. A mass of Donald Trump supporters attempted to prevent Joe Biden’s presidency from being confirmed. In the eyes of far too many, this came out of nowhere but not only had these action been telegraphed for the years leading up to Trump’s presidency and during it, but one can also cite historic examples of similar events. Indeed, the West likes to consider itself beyond the world of coups and power seizures when in fact it was the hotbed for just this for much of the early to mid 21st Century. When I read the news of the events on 6th January my mind was instantly transported to the March on Rome in 1922.
This coup, which occurred on 30th October of that year, was the crescendo of years of Fascism vying for power both within parliamentary means and outside it. As the threat for further violence looms in the US it is vital to take a chance to examine how such coups happen, for as George Santayana famously declared;
“those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Fascism is a deeply Western ideology with its origins from Benito Mussolini. Across the world, far right ideology is now resurfacing. But whilst Europe saw the horrors of Fascism unfold on its frontiers, America did not. This perhaps goes some way to explain why Trumpism has gone largely unchecked until it was far too late. In the Italian context, by the time of the March on Rome in 1922 “there was hardly any segment of Italian establishment not ready to collaborate with Fascism either for nationalist or anti-bolshevik reasons, or both.”
Trump and his supporters have similarly used the Black Lives Matter movement, amongst other things, to play upon people’s fears. As for Mussolini, he had returned from the Great War as an ardent anti-socialist. So from 1918 until 1922 he used the failings of Italian democracy to his advantage. The 1919 election saw the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and Popolari, the Catholic Party, gain the most seats but neither were able to form a stable government. Italy at the time operated under a system of appeasement and compromise.
The term used for this is trasformismo and it was a way of forming centrist coalition in order to please the most people. In turn, however, this alienated the far left and right and so paved the way for Fascism — and Mussolini — to seize power. Between 1919 and 1922 no less than five cabinets were formed but none succeeded. Instead it was a period of chaos and poor government. During this time the Fascist Party slowly increased their authority through the use of violence.
Many in government and many ordinary people were complicit in the rise of Fascism in Italy. When people speak of “never again” this is the stage when action must be taken; both the Fascist Party of Italy and the Nazi Party in Germany gained power partially through exploiting democracy and partly through violent means. Trumpism is showing many similar signs. By the time Mussolini marched on Rome, the King had instructed the army not to prevent them from entering the city. Despite the Blackshirts only being 30,000 strong, they entered the city mostly unopposed as the King feared the potential civil war which could have ensued. Fear of violence itself was enough. They had already inflicted violence across much of the country and had paved a clear path to power. Perhaps the insurrection at the Capitol was not the end of America’s story. We must sit up and take note.
The atrocities committed in the lead up to the March on Rome were largely ignored by the mainstream media. Similarly, it took until election night in 2020 for the media to turn away from Trump’s lies.
Such action could and should have happened earlier and if people were educated on the history of such political figure, perhaps the warning signs would have been seen by more people. In the Italian election of 1921, the Fascists were backed by the then Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, on the ballot paper and thus 35 Fascists, including Mussolini, were elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
Here are two examples of Mussolini being enabled by the Establishment despite supposedly being against it. The same has been seen in the years since Trump first emerged; the media and the Republican Party have fulfilled these roles in the American context. A vital lesson from Italy is that the drive for power continued in extra-parliamentary ways as well as through democratic means. Concerningly, Mussolini did not have the widespread support which we have seen Trump has from the recent election — thank goodness he lost.
Months before the March on Rome at a rally in Cremona, Mussolini addressed a crowd who chanted “To Rome! To Rome!” In the hours before the Capitol insurrection, Trump addressed a crowd who chanted “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!” The parallels cannot be ignored.
The Britannica states this of Mussolini, “his attitudes were highly theatrical, his opinions contradictory, his facts were often wrong, and his attacks were frequently malicious and misdirected.” Mussolini is often considered the lesser of two evils in the context of European fascists. But he was the epicentre of what happened in Germany. The parallels between Mussolini’s March on Rome and Trump’s insurrection of the Capitol should make America wake up to the reality of how democracies can be lost. The insurrection must be the moment when Americans understand that such horror can unfold anywhere in the world. Fear and hate are dangerous fuel.
Many historians have noted that Mussolini was fuelled by a misunderstanding of the complexity of the world to which he responded with violence. America’s “democracy” is fragility as it is so outdated and not set up to incorporate the complexity of voters in the country. However, America’s democracy’s split from monarchies cannot go unaddressed as it was the monarchy in Italy which in the end did allow Mussolini to seize power.
But the threat is not yet over. If 2020 taught us anything it is that our world is fragile and our systems are not only failing us but they are harming us.
About the Author:
Caspian’s greatest love has always been football. They grew up playing it and thinking about almost nothing else. When they came out as non binary at 20 suddenly football wasn’t as much a part of their life. They’ve recently rediscover this love of the game through writing and access to mixed gender sport.
Caspian’s experience of sexism, transphobia and homophobia in sport have driven a passion of raising up the excellence of marginalised people as well as drawing awareness to the struggles they face. They write about sports, history, social justice and everything in between!
After working in HE for a number of years following graduating, they now work in the heritage industry as well as running a blog and podcast, Usually Football. You can find them on Instagram @usuallyfootball!