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Squadrismo [skwaˈdrizmo] consisted of fascist squads who were led by the ras from 1918 - 1924. As a movement it grew from the inspiration many ras leaders found from Mussolini, but was not directly controlled by Benito Mussolini, and each squad tended to follow their own local leader. According to historian Stanley G. Payne, the "new mass Fascism had not been created by Mussolini," but the squadrismo had sprung up around him in rural areas, first starting in northern Italy. The first militant group to react to the violence of revolutionary socialists was the conservative Italian Nationalist Association (ANI), who “organized the first significant nationalist militia” under the blue-shirted Sempre Pronti (Always Ready) banner, leading a planned assault on the Bologna Camera del Lavoro as early as July 15, 1919.
Squadrismo was mainly used to combat the growing Socialist movement which was a big opponent of Fascism. Fascist squads would participate in strikebreaking, organizing tax strikes in socialist controlled towns and intimidating voters at election time. In 1922, prominent ras leaders such as Dino Grandi and Italo Balbo had taken control of many towns in the Po Valley such as Ferrara and Bologna.
Following the 'foot in the door' election of 1921, Mussolini sought to win some control over these autonomous squads through the Pact of Pacification with the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and others. While there are different interpretations of Mussolini's primary reasoning for this pact, whether it was a return to his Marxist-leftist roots; the ultimate goal of scaring the Ras into conformity with the fascist movement despite the ras toying with the idea of deposing Mussolini as the leader of fascism and replacing him with a rival radical nationalist D'Annunzio who two years earlier had occupied Fiume along with 100,000 other nationalists consisting primarily of ex-soldiers.
- Denis Mack Smith, Mussolini, New York: NY, Vintage Books, 1983, p. 40
- Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914-1945, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, p. 98
- Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914-1945, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, p. 95
- Edward Townley, Mussolini and Italy, series editor, Martin Collier, Oxford: UK, Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2002, p. 31