How then, was it possible for someone who was on the very fringes of Italian politics to become a political figure that held power for over two decades?
The severe political instability of the country, coupled with the increasing fascist violence, meant that the government at the time was finding it almost impossible to cope. Patched-up coalition parties were the order of the day and they were neither unified nor effective, to the increasing dissatisfaction of Italian people.
These coalitions were so desperate that 1921 saw a coalition between a radical anti-clerical party and the PPI, who were the representatives of Catholics. Clearly something needed to change.
Fascist support reached 300,000 by 1922, and all over the countryside fascists were forcibly removing elected communist officials in various smaller towns and villages. In August 1922, a general strike by the socialist party was met with severe violence from fascists; many socialists were injured or killed. The building of the socialist newspaper ‘Avanti!’ for which Mussolini had been editor was burned down during the violence.
Mussolini, trying to form his fascist movement into a more coherent, controllable force, formed the PNF (National Fascist Party) but despite his efforts he could not prevent letting local fascist leaders, known as the ras, free to do as they pleased.
The torrent of Fascist violence made the government look weak, and they seemed to be totally incapable of stopping them. Mussolini on the other hand, seemed strong, and appeared in many ways to be the only person who could suppress fascist violence.
Eventually, the fascist movement culminated in the ‘March on Rome’. Four different columns of fascists would march from different angles in Rome, each led by one of the Quadrumvirs (who were the four fascist leaders below Mussolini). It served more as a message challenging the power of the state rather than a coup d’état through force of arms.
The marchers, although impressive, numbered only around 20,000, and if the government had ordered martial law then they would surely have been crushed. When Facta, the prime minister at the time, did declare martial law, consent from the King was required and, Victor Emmanuel I failed to comply. This was probably from a lack of faith in the support of the army.
Mussolini was offered a share in a government coalition, but refused, and on the 30th of October the King made Mussolini Prime Minister of Italy. It must be remembered that, although achieved with unorthodox means, with an undertone of violence, Mussolini’s appointment was, ultimately, legal.