Socialism was a family affair for the Mussolini family. In 1883, Benito Mussolini was born in Forlí, Italy, to a blacksmith named Alessandro and a Catholic schoolteacher named Rosa. Besides being a blacksmith, Alessandro Mussolini was also a vocal socialist who wrote about his beliefs in journals and debated his political philosophy in nearby taverns.
In his childhood and early adult life, Benito Mussolini shared his father’s socialist ardor. Mussolini’s first major choice for a career path was in the field of education. He obtained a teaching certificate in 1901, but soon realized that his calling was not that of a teacher. In 1902, he abandoned his teaching job and set off for Switzerland. One of his few possessions on the journey was, reportedly, a medallion decorated with the engraved visage of Karl Marx.
Benito Mussolini made a name for himself as an advocate of socialism while he was in Switzerland. In particular, observers began to notice the young man’s abilities in speaking, writing and propaganda. Mussolini helped trade unions with publicity and propaganda on multiple occasions.
Mussolini’s actions in Switzerland became so disruptive that the Swiss authorities eventually threw him out of the country. He returned to Italy in 1904, where he continued his writing, speaking and propaganda services. Benito Mussolini founded multiple socialist newspapers, including Popolo d’Italia with the subtitle of “Socialist Daily” and La Lotta di Classe (The Class Struggle). His work with these newspapers caught the attention of Italy’s official socialist newspaper, Avanti (Forward), and he was soon hired on as the paper’s editor. During his youth and early adulthood, Benito Mussolini was arrested as a consequence of his socialist beliefs at least five times.
The schism between Benito Mussolini and the socialist movement only came about in 1915, when Italy was debating how it should react to World War One. The socialist movement in Italy, for the most part, rejected the war. Benito Mussolini, however, supported joining the Allied side of WWI, thinking war would act as a catalyst, allowing Italy to change and expand, both geographically and socially. As a result of his pro-war beliefs, Mussolini resigned from his position at Avanti, left (or was expelled from) the socialist movement and joined the Italian armed forces.
It was only in 1919, after his experiences in WWI, that Mussolini rallied his fascist movement and transitioned from being a radical socialist to a staunch counter-revolutionary militant. After swinging from one extreme of the political spectrum to the other, Benito Mussolini adapted his oratory, writing and propaganda skills to bolster his new fascist movement. With a militia of around 30,000 men in black shirts, Mussolini marched on Rome in 1922 and convinced the Italian government to make him Prime Minister. In only a few short years, he would become the fascist dictator of Italy.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- Varieties of Fascism by Eugen Weber. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1964.
- How to Stage a Coup. Documentary directed by Cal Seville, 2017.