The Rise of Mussolini and Italian Fascism

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In his exploration of 20th century fascism between the wars, Payne (1995) described Mussolini as the most liberal of the totalitarian personalities that dominated that period. Perhaps this was a vestige of his earlier involvement with revolutionary socialism, or a reflection from his early years. Yet, the fact remains that Mussolini, along with Hitler, was an architect of fascism and of the policies that led to World War II. The intention in the following pages is to explore Mussolini's rise to power, including his childhood and youthful political development. Benito Mussolini was born in July of 1883 in Varana di Costa, a village in the Commune of Predappio in Romagna. According to Ivone Kirkpatrick (1964), Romagna, at that time, was a hotbed of anticlericalism and republicanism. It was an era of rural nonconformity. Mussolini himself was named after both a Mexican revolutionary and two Italian revolutionary socialists. Both his grandfather and his father were politically involved, his grandfather in the struggle against the papacy and his father in the struggle to institute revolutionary socialism in Italy. However, his mother was deeply religious, conformist, and conservative. Both eventually had an important influence on Mussolini's development and choices. He became a political activist and political writer, like his father, but he was essentially conservative, like his mother. Mussolini himself asserted that his greatest love was for his mother, and that she had much influence on his character development and behavior (Mussolini, 1928). That character, at least in his early years, seemed to be unruly, rebellious, and antiauthoritarian. Records of his behavior and demeanor in school indicated that he reacted poorly to any kind of authority and order, was passionate and unruly, hated discipline, and sought revenge in the case of any slight or injury. He was eventually asked to leave the school. His later schooling, however, was more successful. At this time, he began his involvement in politics and became known as an excellent public speaker. Still, he remained undisciplined, even while obtaining a diploma to serve as an elementary teacher. Although he received high marks in several of his subjects, his personality and character seemed highly unsuited to that career. A career as a political agitator seems much more appropriate. Ultimately, this was the course Mussolini followed. Although he served for a short while as a schoolteacher, this was not satisfying to him. Instead, he determined to emigrate to Switzerland, which some have asserted was simply to avoid being drafted into the military service in Italy. There he wandered much of the time, became involved with a number of women, and spent much of his time with revolutionaries, both Italian and Russian. He was not a settled young men, and he was a resentful, rebellious, disorderly one. This seems to have been the course of his early life, which included much violence and encounters with the police. These were not the result of Mussolini's revolutionary principles, but of his temperament. He continued to be an undisciplined individual who drifted into jobs, relationships, and political involvements. He was not a good companion, nor an individual who had much respect for the rights of others. His basic attitude toward other human beings seemed to be one of contempt, despite his early Socialist leanings. Unlike his father, he never exhibited compassion for people, but scorn. It was in 1908 that he began the main part of his political career, still a Socialist, writing a Socialist newspaper in Oneglia. Again, he had a very poor attitude toward most of his peers. He did not think well of the passivists in the Socialist party, nor the reformists. He was still extremely anticlerical and he began to speak for the most revolutionary element of the Socialist party. He was against anything that was established, anything that seemed connected to the middleclass. Ultimately...
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