During the years between Italy's entry into World War I in 1915 and the March on Rome in 1922, Mussolini's social and political thought took on the specific doctrinal features that were to characterize Fascism. From 1915 until the founding of the Fasci di combattimento, on March 23, 1919, Mussolini traced the first outlines of Fascist doctrine. The subsequent period, during which the movement was transformed into the Partito Nazionale Fascista saw the articulation of the specific fundamentals of Fascism. The development during this period was continuous and pursued a fairly consisted logic.
It was an evolution which did not cease with the accession to power. Nonetheless, it is instructive to focus attention on this initial period of doctrinal development because it enables a more precise and competent assessment of the judgment. Until 1914, Mussolini had had experience with one but complex social and political doctrine, that of Marxism as it was then understood. Mussolini's interpretation of Marxist thought, as unique as it came to be, represented the thinking of a significant number of revolutionary socialists of prewar Italy.
Mussolini' s socialism, however, remained socialism only as long as class membership was understood to constitute the fundamental social and historical relationship into which individual men can enter. The entire fabric of his socialism hang upon his critical conception. As long as class was the unit of loyality, as long as class was construed as the vehicle of moral and social regeneration, Mussolini could remain a socialist, however novel his interpretations and however extensive his revisions. On November 24,1914, when he was expelled from the Socialist Party,
Mussolini insisted that his expulsion could not divest him of his "socialist faith". National intervention in the European conflagration was an immediate issue and as a problem it divided socialists, but since most continental socialist parties had opted for war Mussolini conceived at that time, that interventionalism was not a commitment sufficient to require the abandonment of socialism. But the theoretical tensions engendered by the commitment to Italian intervention in the War exercised their inescapable influence and this thought underwent that final, but critical, transformation that made of his socialism, Fascism.
The First Fascism Before the advent of World War I Mussolini had already formulated a body of social and political convictions that persisted with remarkable stability throughout his political life. It was a socialism informed of, and transformed by, elements found in the thought of Pareto, Sorel and Michels and represented in the writings of a number of revolutionary syndicalists, among whom A. O. Olivetti and Sergio Panunzio were the most important. Almost immediately after his expulsion from the Socialist Party, Mussolini
noted that the war had crystallized whole populations into national units in which intragroup class distinctions had been by-and-large obliterated. In effect, Mussolini began to argue that national rather than class units constituted more adequate subjects of analysis. Each historic people, Mussolini contended, is the product of a unique constellation of material and spiritual elements and shapes its own bourgeoisie and its own proletariat. Class interests are conditioned by and in some significant sense subordinate to national interests.
Mussolini maintained that "class is based on the community of interests, but the nation is a history of sentiments, of traditions, of language of culture or race". The significance which the concepts nation and people assumed in Mussolini's thinking forced him to re-evaluate the reality of international working class solidarity upon which much of his prewar thinking had been based. The consequences of his re-orientation were obvious. Mussolini advocated a return to the nationalism of Mazzini. What the nation demanded was dedication to its service not only on the part of the workers but on the part of parliamentarians as well.
If the nation's laboring masses were to dedicate themselves to the collective interests, no less could be required of the political class. The minoritarian governing class of the nation must govern.. He declared himself anti-parliamentarian because parliament had failed the nation. Parliament in Italy had become "a plague that poisoned the blood of the nation". His objection to parliament was no longer based upon a conception which construed it as representing special class interests; it turned on the judgment that parliament was incapable of representing and defending the vital interests on the nation.
Mussolini had always opposed parliamentarianism. His conception of social change, political organization and rulership was consistently elites. As early as January, 1915, with the organization of the interventionist Fasci d' Azione Rivoluzionaria ,Mussolini spoke of a resolute minority of men, animated by a sure consciousness of the national interest, invoking in the masses a state of being that would conduce to the fulfillment of collective purpose". Already in May, 1918, Mussolini had called attention to the hierarchy of productive functions that characterized the productive life of the nation.
Neither proletariat nor bourgeoisie constituted politically meaningful designations. From the vantage point of the nation there were only categories that performed productive functions, and these could be designated productive classes to specify one particular role in the system of interlocking roles that constituted national life. It was that unitary life, the life of the nation, which led Mussolini to speak of the "coincidence of interests " that united workers and employers and made possible their collaboration in a program of accelerating overall economic productivity.