In 1914, Benito Mussolini was forced out of the Italian Socialist Party after calling for Italian intervention against Austria. Prior to World War I, Mussolini had opposed military conscription, protested against Italy's occupation of Libya, and was the editor of the Socialist Party's official newspaper, Avanti!. Over time, he simply called for revolution, without mentioning class struggle.
Mussolini's nationalism enabled him to raise funds from Ansaldo (an armaments firm) and other companies to create his own newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war. The Allies, eager to draw Italy to the war, helped finance the newspaper. This newspaper became Fascism's official newspaper. During the war, Mussolini served in the army and was wounded once. Following the end of the war and the Treaty of Versailles, in 1919, Mussolini created the Fasci di Combattimento or Combat League. It was originally dominated by patriotic socialist and syndicalist veterans who opposed the pacifist policies of the Italian Socialist Party. The Fascists initially had a platform far more inclined to the left, promising social revolution, proportional representation, women's suffrage (partly realized in 1925), and dividing private property held by estates.
On 15 April 1919, the Fascists made their debut in political violence, when a group of members from the Fasci di Combattimento attacked the offices of Avanti! Recognizing the failures of the Fascists' initial revolutionary and left-leaning policy, Mussolini moved the organization away from the left and turned the revolutionary movement into an electoral movement in 1921 named the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party). The party copied the nationalist themes of D'Annunzio and rejected parliamentary democracy while still operating within to destroy it. Mussolini changed his original revolutionary policies, such as moving away from anti-clericalism to supporting the Catholic Church and abandoned his public opposition to the monarchy.
Support for the Fascists began to grow in 1921 and Fascist-supporting army officers began taking arms and vehicles from the army to use in counterrevolutionary attacks on socialists. In 1920, Giolitti had come back as Prime Minister in an attempt to solve the deadlock. One year later, Giolitti's government had already become unstable, and a growing socialist opposition further endangered his government. Giolitti believed that the Fascists could be toned down and used to protect the state from the socialists. He decided to include Fascists on his electoral list for the 1921 elections. In the elections, the Fascists did not make large gains, but Giolitti's government failed to gather a large enough coalition to govern and offered the Fascists placements in his government. The Fascists rejected Giolitti's offers and joined with socialists in bringing down his government.
A number of descendants of those who had served Garibaldi's revolutionaries during unification were won over to Mussolini's nationalist revolutionary ideals. His advocacy of corporatism and futurism had attracted advocates of the "third way". But most importantly he had won over politicians like Facta and Giolitti who did not condemn him for his Blackshirts' mistreatment of socialists.
The Fascist March on Rome
In October 1922, Mussolini took advantage of a general strike by workers, and announced his demands to the government to give the Fascist Party political power or face a coup. With no immediate response, a small number of Fascists began a long trek across Italy to Rome which was called the March on Rome, claiming to Italians that Fascists were intending to restore law and order. Mussolini himself did not participate until the very end of the march. D’Annunzio was being hailed as leader of the march until it was learned that he had been pushed out of a window and severely wounded in a failed assassination attempt, depriving him of the possibility of leading an actual coup d'état orchestrated by an organization originally founded by himself.
The Fascists, under the leadership of Mussolini demanded Prime Minister Luigi Facta's resignation and that Mussolini be named Prime Minister. Although the Italian Army was far better armed than the Fascist paramilitaries, the Italian government under King Victor Emmanuel III faced a political crisis. The King was forced to choose which of the two rival movements in Italy would form the government: Mussolini's Fascists, or the anti-monarchist Italian Socialist Party. He selected the Fascists.
On October 28, 1922, the king selected Mussolini to become Prime Minister, allowing Mussolini and the Fascist Party to pursue their political ambitions as long as they supported the monarchy and its interests. Mussolini at 39 was young compared to other Italian and European leaders. His supporters called him Il Duce ("The Leader") . A personality cult was developed that portrayed him as the nation's saviour which was aided by the personal popularity he held with Italians already which would remain strong until Italy faced continuous military defeats in World War II.
Upon taking power, Mussolini formed a legislative coalition with nationalists, liberals, and populists. However goodwill by the Fascists towards parliamentary democracy faded quickly: Mussolini's coalition passed the electoral Acerbo Law of 1923, which gave two thirds of the seats in parliament to the party or coalition that achieved 25% of the vote. The Fascist Party used violence and intimidation to achieve the 25% threshold in the 1924 election, and became the ruling political party of Italy. Following the election, Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated after calling for an annulment of the elections because of the irregularities. Following the assassination, the Socialists walked out of parliament, allowing Mussolini to pass more authoritarian laws.
In 1925, Mussolini accepted responsibility for the Fascist violence in 1924, and promised that dissenters would be dealt with harshly. Before the speech, Blackshirts smashed opposition presses and beat up several of Mussolini's opponents. This event is considered the onset of undisguised Fascist dictatorship in Italy, though it would be 1928 before the Fascist Party was formally declared the only legal party in the nation. Over the next four years, Mussolini eliminated nearly all checks and balances on his power. In 1926, he passed a law that declared he was responsible only to the king and made him the sole person able to determine Parliament's agenda. Local autonomy was swept away, and appointed podestas replaced communal mayors and councils. Soon after all other parties were banned in 1928, parliamentary elections were replaced by plebiscites in which the Grand Council nominated a single list of candidates. Mussolini wielding enormous political powers as the effective ruler of Italy. The King was a figurehead and handled ceremonial roles; he retained the power to dismiss the prime minister on the advice of the Grand Council.