What was the role of the First World War in Mussolini’s transition from Socialism to Fascism?
Mussolini’s controversial transition from his Socialist roots to leader of the Fascist Party has been bewildering to many, particularly those who perceive it as a sudden and random change. However, many historians, such as O’Brien, have suggested this transition was not so random; Mussolini’s political shift from the Left to the Right was the result of World War One. Italy’s entry into the war in 1915 divided the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which led to Mussolini’s expulsion and his rapid political evolution. On the other hand, Gregor argues that Mussolini’s underlying revolutionary nature was the main reason for his change, as it directed his beliefs to adopt various ideologies that conformed with his desire for revolution. Conversely, Payne argues that Nationalism completed the establishment of Fascism. This essay will explore these three arguments in order to understand whether Mussolini’s transition from Socialism to Fascism was the result of the war, his revolutionary nature, or the influence of Nationalism. O’Brien has argued that the developments in the First World War guided Mussolini’s political transition from Socialism to Fascism. Italy’s intervention into the war, to Mussolini’s personal experience in the trenches and the disastrous Battle of Caporetto all contributed to Mussolini’s political evolution. Italy’s intervention into World War One in 1915 signified a pivotal point in Mussolini’s political career. As a Socialist, Mussolini was expected to promote the neutrality of Italy in the war, which he initially did. In the Socialist paper, Avanti, Mussolini declared that Italy should remain neutral, as Italy had not started the war, and it would sacrifice many working class lives. However, Mussolini’s view on intervention soon changed (at least publically), as he began to express pro-interventionist writings in Avanti. In October 1914, Mussolini argued that the PSI had always supported the allies, therefore intervention would not be altering their beliefs and that war could be seen as an opportunity for revolution. Furthermore, he argued that neutrality was risky and it would have consequences, particularly for Italian expansionism if the Allies or Central Powers annexed territory Italy desired, such as the Balkans. However, the Socialists did not agree and 20 October 1914, Mussolini was expelled from the PSI. Thus, the issue of intervention demonstrated how Mussolini’s beliefs evolved from the start of World War One. On the other hand, Mussolini’s apparent change of heart from neutralist to interventionist was not really a change. Not only was interventionism consistent with his revolutionary Socialism, he had already published and agreed with the syndicalist, Panunzio’s, pro-intervention articles in his personal paper, Utopia in November 1913. Nevertheless, although the intervention issue may not have altered Mussolini’s views significantly, he was expelled from the PSI as a result, which had a considerable impact on his beliefs afterwards. Thus, intervention could be seen as the architect of his political evolution. Similarly, Mussolini’s personal experience in the trenches contributed to the development of his political beliefs. Mussolini joined the war in August 1915, which awakened his patriotism. He also became less anti-military. However, Mussolini’s patriotism has been identified from as early as 1909. During his time in Trentino, Mussolini became associated with Battisti; his strong patriotism for Italy inspired Mussolini. Furthermore, as a socialist, Mussolini had always stressed that Socialism was against Nationalism, not the nation. Nevertheless, his sense of national unity and tolerance of the military were expressed during his time in the trenches and represented a fundamental change in his political thought. It also demonstrated his tendency to adapt his views in response to...
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