The MVSN started out as an organization not unlike the German S.A. (Brown Shirts). They were purely a Party orientated organization, and like their German Counterparts wore a distinctive uniform – a Black Shirt and a Fez. This led to their popular nickname of Black Shirts (Camicie Nere – Camicie = Shirt & Nere = Black). Later the term CCNN was adopted for Black Shirt military units, and is taken directly from the initials of Camicie Nere. MVSN and CCNN are generally interchangeable, however the former primarily refers to political orientated parts of the Black Shirts, while the latter is generally used in reference to combat units.
At least one author (Victor Madeja) has suggested that the Black Shirts may well have been the Red Shirts, adopting the traditional colors of Garibaldi’s famous units from the Italian Wars of Unification, had not red been synonymous with Communism and Marxism. However, it would seem more likely that Black was adopted as it had been the uniform of the Arditi (Shock Troops); who had represented the Elite of the Italian Army in World War I. The Arditi were the Italian equivalent of the German Stosstuppen (Storm Troops), and in both countries, fascist groups adopted these troops uniforms as a means to attract Great War veterans to their ranks, and to generally emphasize their links with Veterans Organizations. This was all part of their political aims/plans to recruit public support. (The politics however are not the point of this article and I do not intend to discuss them at any length).
It is possible that many served in the Black Shirt Militia Units for a chance of immortality (or Glory – such as Garibaldi’s Red Shirts achieved), or in support of republican political views (which didn’t necessarily mean long term support for the fascists). Either way there was plenty of loyalty towards fascism and the fascist party in the Black Shirts, but certainly none towards the King and the Monarchy.
Mussolini was a sort of de facto Commander in Chief, although only an Honorary Corporal, and just one of the boys, it was he who exercised real power over the organization, rather than the Console Generale! However, unlike their German counterparts (who were literally exterminated in the Night of the Long Knives), the Black Shirts were reasonably secure and stable. Both Mussolini and the Fascist Grand Council required the Black Shirts, as muscle, since the armed forces were controlled by Monarchists (who saw Mussolini as a threat to their own power) and there was possibly concern (or paranoia) about how much support the Fascists really had. It has been suggested that a sizable portion of the population may have sided with the Monarchists (and the King) if forced to choose, however support for Mussolini and the Fascists (and also for Hitler and the Nazis in Germany) was probably a lot more widespread in their respective countries than people concede today!
Technically the Black Shirts consisted of volunteers who had completed their 18 months compulsory service. Volunteering meant a term of service of 10 years, albeit very part time service! Volunteering was usually seen as mandatory (like all totalitarian regimes of the early 20th Century, enlisting in some form of party organization was actively encouraged, but was not usually compulsory unless a Public Official such as School Teacher or Government Officer). It certainly was not enforced, and many avoided enlistment. The MVSN were very short of Officer and NCO material for cadres and this too contributed to the sometimes-low level of enlistment.
As I mentioned I do not intend to discuss the political side of Italian Fascism here, but would mention that it did not seem to include the Genocide and level of Racism promoted by Hitler and the National Socialists in Germany. Furthermore, although the Italians did not have an equivalent of the S.S. (An army of fanatics with allegiance sworn to one man); and although admittedly there were some similar comparisons between the MVSN and the S.S. at the start of the war (both were Para-military organizations not very well equipped for genuine military service); the MVSN were not involved in mass Genocide like the S.S. nor did they (later in the war) become an elite private army who got the best of everything.
Finally, the Black Shirt Officers were often appointed for political zeal, and loyalty (not necessarily to the Fascist Grand Council, but to the Ras – The local Party Organization Chief). The Italians took a very individualistic approach to many things, including politics; so, the Fascist Grand Council often had little input, everything being controlled by the Duce and the Party Secretary (who essentially rubber stamped everything the Duce did). While the Ras in each area did as they pleased since they believed they were directly subordinate to the Duce (including building Militia that were, hopefully, loyal to them personally)! Ultimately this meant the Militias were not always as well led as they could have been, and they suffered correspondingly.