From a humble middle-class family to the stern, no nonsense dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini grew his following from the ground up. Mussolini’s campaign erupted on the current discontent with the Italian economy and political field. Italians felt Italy didn’t get justice in terms of territorial settlements at the end of WWI despite being on the winning side. Socialists and communists were fighting for their view of a future Italy, scaring many in the middle class. Italy was also hurting economically, as the Italian economy was stagnant after WWI. Many of those who were hit hardest by the economy were also in the middle class.1 However, there were many other moving parts as to why Mussolini came to power. Overall, individuals wanted to see a drastic and significant change in Italy, and to them, Mussolini was the answer.
In 1912, Mussolini was a young socialist involved in Italian politics. That same year Mussolini started editing for the prominent socialist newspaper Avanti!2 There he developed his views, and advocated against Italy joining WWI when it broke out in 1914. Mussolini did this to support the decision of the Italian Socialist Party, which had dismissed the war after a group of anti-militarist protesters were killed. However, thereafter he did a complete about-face and began strongly advocating for Italy’s entrance to the war in Europe. He saw the war as an opportunity for his own ambitions too. Two years later, after advocating for Italian participation in the war, Mussolini left the Socialist Party and began his own movement. At that point, Mussolini’s views underwent a complete change as well. Taking a break from politics, Mussolini volunteered and served with distinction on the Italian front in 1915. He was severely injured in 1917, and was forced to leave the war and the army.
When Mussolini returned to politics in 1917, he promoted nationalism, militarism, and the restoration of the bourgeois state. Mussolini did not like where Italy was heading in terms of its foreign policy and its domestic economy. Mussolini had the vision of returning Italy to the grandeur of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, he wanted to be like a modern-day Julius Caesar ruling over his nation. He could not sit around and watch Italy fall even further into a recession, or be pushed around by foreign powers. Mussolini began to promote his ideas in his newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia.3 In 1919, Mussolini started surrounding himself with sympathetic minds, like General Emilio De Bono, Italo Balbo, Cesare De Vecchi, and Michele Bianchi, growing his following so he could create his own political party. As his organization broadened, his supporters started wearing black shirts to their rallies. In 1922, Mussolini found his opening into national politics. Blackshirt volunteers crushed a strike called for by trade unions, and in the process, his party began to gain the support of many Italians who found Mussolini’s nationalism appealing, mainly among the middle class. However, Mussolini was also supported by veterans, industrialists, and bankers. He urged his supporters to march to Rome with him, like the great Giuseppe Garibaldi did after he unified Italy in the nineteenth century.4 Mussolini stated that either his party, the Fascists, would be given power, or they would take it themselves by force.
In the months leading up to the march on Rome, Mussolini began taking action, preparing for what would happen after they went through with it. Mussolini placed Bianchi in charge of political matters, and the other three were to take charge of the military operations. This allowed Mussolini to be free and more flexible. The Blackshirts’ first objective was to seize the towns around Rome. After the towns were seized, fascist columns of Blackshirts were to converge on Rome. The official date of the march was to begin on October 24, 1922, at a rally in Napoli. As the days led up to the march, Luigi Facta, Italy’s Prime Minister, became increasingly worried about his position as Prime Minister of Italy. In a last-ditch attempt to protect his position, he ordered a proposal of martial law. The order would have placed the army in between the government and a fascist takeover. However, the order needed to be signed by King Victor Emmanuel III. After consideration, the King was not confident in the loyalty of his army and feared a revolt that would jeopardize his power. For that reason, he did not sign the order on October 29, which effectively forced Facta out, making Mussolini the new premier of Italy. On October 30, Mussolini arrived in Rome in a sleeping car with 30,000 Blackshirts following behind. He presented himself to the king by announcing, “Majesty, I come from the battlefield—fortunately bloodless.”5