Mussolinis Foreign Policy Essay

“How far do the sources suggest consistent aims in Mussolini’s foreign policy 1922-1939?”

Source 1 is two dispatches from the British Ambassador to Rome, Sir Ronald Graham written in January 1923 and June 1923 respectively. The significance of the author can be viewed in two ways. Firstly one might conceive that as he is obviously a well-respected high-ranking British official he would be telling the precise truth, on the other hand one may believe that he may be distorting the truth in order to satisfy the government as we all know that politics is not without its corruptness. The source states that although the Italians are in awe of Mussolini, “omnipotent as he is…” he is finding it difficult; however successful foreign policy is “of vital importance to him…”

In both documents we see a similar reflection of Mussolini’s foreign policy. Both articles state that the foreign policy aims were “egotistical” and “opportunistic”. This source suggests that one of Mussolini’s foreign policy aims was to increase international prestige for Italy, “his foreign policy will be in the sole interests of Italy…”

Source 2 is a painting depicting an Italian soldier opening the door of ‘freedom’ to the Abyssinian ‘slaves’. The contextual meaning of the painting is that the Italians are showing the Abyssinians the light of Fascism. The painting suggests that the Italians believed they were benefiting the Abyssinians by ‘civilizing’ their lives. The source proposes a policy of spreading the ideology of Fascism and establishing an Empire.

Source 3 is part of a statement made by Mussolini in 1939 to the Grand Council of Fascism. By this time Mussolini had virtually chosen which side to ally Italy with in the European power struggle. The source gives us an insight into what Mussolini thought about Italy’s position in the world; he believed Italy was “semi-independent”. The source states his intentions are to break the “bars of the prison” and shows his aggressive policy towards Britain and France. This source shows consistency with source 1 in that it emphasizes the aim of expanding the Italian Empire.

Source 4 was written in 1944 by an anti-Fascist called Carlo Levi. This man was banished to the South during Mussolini’s regime; therefore the reader may interpret this source as being purposefully negative or perhaps partisan. This source can give us an insight into the real feelings of Italians at the outbreak of war. It says that the peasants, upon hearing the news of the war, were “as dark and gloomy as bats.” This source suggests that one of Mussolini’s foreign policy aims was to increase domestic support for the government. It shows this by the writer depicting an Italian landowner trying to muster up support for the war, however he was greeted with an apathetic, “stony indifference.”

Source 5 shows us Mussolini’s feeling about the Germans in 1934. This date is significant because it is a few months after Hitler’s visit to Italy which was described as “tense”. It is also before Mussolini’s visit to Germany which dramatically changed his view of the nation, after the visit he said Germany was “the most powerful nation in modern Europe…” This shows us that Mussolini’s foreign opinions can change radically, as the derogatory opinion of Germany soon turned into a military alliance.

Source 6 is an extract from the Pact of Steel constituted in May 1939. It is a military treaty in which both nations, Italy and German, pledge to defend one another in time of war. The aim of the Pact, it is said, is to “secure their living space and to maintain peace.” Of course this was not true. The source suggests that one of Mussolini’s foreign policy aims was to create an Empire, as with source 2, and to increase international prestige.

All six sources show us that there is a wide range of judgment about Mussolini’s foreign policy. The sources have been written and spread over a long period of time and interlink with vital events in the history of Fascism. Some of the sources show consistency with Mussolini’s foreign policy aims. Source 2 and source 4 both suggest that one of his aims was to spread Fascism and to increase domestic support for the regime. Mussolini’s only inconsistent policy is his relationship with Hitler. Mussolini shows many swings of loyalty and I believe that he wanted to see which side would come out victorious. Source 5 and source 6 shows this interpretation well, source 5 is a very critical observation of the German people, however source 6 shows total alliance of the two nations.

From the sources we can determine six main foreign policy aims. These were to gain dominance over the Mediterranean, which Italy was fighting over with Britain and France, to achieve supremacy in the Balkans, with these policies he could establish an Empire, and this would result in the spread of Fascism, an increase in international prestige for the regime and Italy, and increased domestic support for the government.

Part B;

What impact did the pursuit of an aggressive foreign policy have upon the Italian people?

“I want to make Italy great, respected and feared…” (Mussolini speaking in 1925)

One of Mussolini’s major priorities was to make Italy ready for war, his fascist ideology, if it had any clear content at all, was based upon this single aim. Mussolini praised war as an ennobling activity and said that it would strengthen and unite the Italian people. Although Mussolini began his foreign policy in a generally cautious and traditional fashion, his future intentions were always made clear, “It is destined that the Mediterranean should become ours, that Rome should be the directing city of civilisation…” Originally Italians followed Mussolini, they believed that he could direct them to glory, that Italy would become like it once was, the resulting effects on their lives was immeasurable.

Mussolini was involved sporadically in foreign policy during the 1920’s; the Corfu crisis is one example. In the Locarno Pact of 1925 historical evidence suggests that, contrary to popular belief, Mussolini played an important role in the talks and this gave him and Italy recognition as a the ‘make-weight’ of Europe. These events had modest impact on the Italian people who were, for the time being, not greatly affected by his policies. Mussolini’s main concern in the 20’s was revitalizing the Italian economy. He did this with a series of measures; these measures included the Battle for the Lira, and the Battle for Grain. Each one of these processes was intended to result in an economy that was ready for war. The battle for the Lira aimed to fix the value of the Lira at 90 to the pound.

The effects on the Italians were that they were shown the power and authority of the regime. It eventually harmed the economy by hitting exports, and the Government was forced to impose 20% cuts in wages. The Battle for Grain intended to boost cereal production to make Italy self-sufficient in grain, and to perform one of Mussolini’s foreign policy objectives, to increase international prestige. D. Mack Smith comments on the battle, “Success in this battle was…another illusory propaganda victory won at the expense of the Italian economy…” The effects on the people were that their quality of diet decreased and there was a raised cost of grain and bread in Italy.

As Mussolini’s reputation at home grew (along with his confidence) he began to discard his comparatively non-active foreign policy for a much more aggressive one. The Abyssinia War (Oct 1935 – April 1936) had a massive impact on the Italian people for many reasons. This country was of particular importance to Italy because of its past experiences, in particular the defeat of the Italian army by the Abyssinian army at Adowa in 1896. Another reason for the invasion was very similar to Hitler’s ‘Lebensraum’ campaign, in Italian “Spazio vitale”. According to Carlo Levi most of Italians in the south were not enthusiastic for the war, “the peasants listened [to the announcement of war] in silence…” However other Italians did not share the same view, one Italian journalist said that Mussolini’s “pictures were cut out of newspapers and magazines and pasted on the walls of the poor peasant cottages…”

The campaign ended with an Italian victory and with minimal opposition from the Western powers and League of Nations. On the other hand it is questionable whether Italian victory against the Abyssinians was beneficial to the Italian people. The advantages of the war were mainly short term. These were that the Italians were identified as ‘true’ Fascists, Tannenbaum comments, “In response to League of Nations’ sanctions for a few months the identification of ‘Italian’ with ‘Fascist’, which had been proclaimed for about the last ten years, seemed a true one.”

They had revenged the defeat at Adowa in 1896, Clark believes that the triumph was “his [Mussolini’s] finest hour…” and the popularity of the Duce cult among Italians was at its peak. The victory detracted the people’s attention from the failing Italian economy and the increasing social unrest. The damaging effects of the war were mainly long term however there was once instantaneous effect. This was the detrimental effect on the Italian-Anglo-Franco relationship, which was on its proverbial ‘last leg’ after continuous political antagonism relating to dominance over the Mediterranean and East Africa.

The long-term effects are immeasurable, but the most important consequence on the Italian people was the huge economic cost. The budget deficit rose from 2.5 billion to 16 billion lire, in October 1936 the lire was devalued by 40% and there were massive wage cuts, especially for agricultural and factory workers. A further long-term harmful effect of the war was the huge military cost, along with the Spanish Civil war, Italy was left literally stripped of its most valued weaponry (an estimated 37 tanks, 25 artillery pieces and 67 trucks were lost in the Spanish Civil War alone) and a human cost of over 4,500.

The final damaging effect was that Mussolini’s already inflated ego was continuing to grow; he felt that he was ‘invincible’. Overall the Abyssinian War made the Empire and the cult of the Duce extremely popular with the Italian people but only for a short period, in all other respects it was a disaster. The economic cost was enormous, militarily the victory led to complacency from the army, diplomatically Italy was left isolated in a hostile world and according to Carocci, “the British, Italy’s traditional ally, never forgave Mussolini.”

After this conquest Mussolini became over ambitious and gave the army and economy little time to convalesce before taking part in another foreign policy operation, the Spanish Civil War. One aim of the Italian intervention was to fulfil one of Mussolini’s foreign policy aims, to spread Fascism. The final reason to intervene in the war was to keep Fascism ‘on the boil’ so to speak. It would further distract domestic problems and Mussolini believed that, as with Abyssinia, his popularity would flourish.

The Spanish Civil War turned out to have a massive impact on the Italian people; the effects were parallel to the Abyssinian War. Firstly the enormous economic deficit continued to devalue the Lire and the government was forced to raise taxes, which greatly angered the working class. The cost of the war was in the region of 14 billion lire, which is half a year’s tax revenue! Wages were lowered and Italian trade was disrupted, this forced increased trade with Germany, further alienating Italy from the western powers.

The government, which had gained support from the Abyssinian War, had in fact lost significant support because of its intrusion. Militarily, although Italy was on the winning side, it had lost much needed ammunition and weaponry. Also its humiliating defeat at Guadalajara had exposed the army’s weaknesses to its enemies as well as its allies. Another outcome was that Italy was increasing its links with Nazi Germany, the German Ambassador in Rome said “All the more clearly will Italy recognise the advisability of confronting the Western powers shoulder to shoulder with Germany.” This was a difficult for most Italians to except as they saw Germany as becoming a domineering influence on Italian policy.

The effects of the Spanish Civil War on the Italian people demoralized them and their support for the regime dwindled. The long-term effects were equally destructive to the government’s popularity and economically Italy was now crippled in debt.

In October 1936 Mussolini made an alliance with Hitler. They declared common policies towards Spain, the Danubian countries, the Soviet Union, and the League of Nations. Mussolini called the new alliance the “Rome-Berlin Axis”. On November 25th 1936 Germany made the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan, pledging mutual support against the Soviets, Mussolini joined in November 1937, extending the Axis from Rome to Tokyo.

This alliance had a large impact on the Italian population, including obvious reasons like the economic impact and social changes, such as the Anti-Semitic guidelines. Some Italians began to see that Mussolini was not taking them to greatness as they had believed after the victory in Abyssinia but perhaps taking them to destruction. The result of this alliance with Germany was the Pact of Steel signed by Ciano (Italian foreign Minister) in May 1939. This was perhaps Mussolini biggest mistake of his leadership. Not only did the majority of Italian people oppose the alliance, he lost support of many of the elite and the Church.

The effects of the alliance were vast. Some historians have suggested that this event lead to Mussolini’s downfall as it pushed him into war and therefore his collapse. The historian Cassels suggests, “The Axis became for Fascist Italy an obligation dictated by harsh necessity, from which there was no exit…Fascist Italy became, in fact, a satellite of Nazi Germany.” Other effects included Mussolini’s attitude towards Austria. Many Italians had seen Austria as a geographical barrier between them and Germany; they practically lost their most important strategic gain of Versailles, the Brenner Pass. The social effects on the Italians were relatively minimal (the majority still supported the regime) besides the growing underground resistance to Fascism and the Anti-Semitic policies applied.

Economic policy also had a major effect on the Italian people. Firstly there was Mussolini’s pursuit of Autarky, meaning self sufficiently. The effects of autarky on the Italian people were immense. Imports dramatically fell from 1929 onwards and this hit wages and prices were increased. Prices on food, coal and oil all rose, which, mixed with decreasing wages, ended up costing the average Italian a lot more. Some historians, like Morgan, argue, “Autarky was certainly an unattainable goal for a relatively poor and ill-resourced country like Italy…” I believe that Morgan’s comment is absolutely true.

Mussolini’s priority was to make Italians harder and better fighters for the inevitable war in Europe. One of these policies was the Welfare state. The Welfare State is a relatively old provision and the Fascist government inherited a complicated system that was funded, mainly by private bodies such as the Church. Mussolini hope welfare would allow Fascism to reach areas of Italian society as yet untouched by the regime, as Morgan proposes, “By providing the moral and material benefits of welfare, the party was extending the regime’s network of control and surveillance of the population.” The aims of the project were to reduce the dangers of social unrest, to use the exercise as a form of propaganda to rally support and to prepare Italians for war. The results and effects on the general population were limited however; there was no real extension to previous systems except in childcare, which was aimed at producing future soldiers.

Other areas of the economy that were affected due to Mussolini’s aggressive foreign policy were agriculture, industry and trade. New areas of industry were developed during the 20’s and 30’s such as chemical and synthetic fibres. Most industry benefited from supportive government polices and the growth of larger firms and cartels continued. Trade should have been important for a country lacking many basic resources. Mussolini’s foreign policy entanglements increasingly effected the direction and nature of Italy’s trade in the 1930’s.

One of Mussolini’s ambitions in foreign policy was to reinforce domestic support. He often controlled and idealised foreign policy for either his own personal image expansion or to increase Italy’s international prestige. For the first ten years Mussolini acted fairly cautiously, only participating in mild foreign campaigns, such as Corfu in 1923 and Fiume in early 1924. In the mid 1930’s however Mussolini was able to exploit Italy’s position as the ‘make-weight’ of Europe. The Abyssinian war and the intervention in the Spanish Civil war were both great strains on the Italian economy; however the Abyssinian war was Mussolini’s peak of popularity.

The Rome-Berlin Axis bought Mussolini under Hitler’s sphere of influence, shown in the different attitudes to Anschluss in 1934 and 1938. After this alliance the Nazi government began to sway domestic policy and this began to alienate the Italian elite and they began to withdraw their support for Fascism. By 1939 Mussolini’s foreign policy looked fairly successful, but in reality he had wasted Italy’s precious resources for little real gain. The Italian people meanwhile had been subjected to virtual constant war from 1935, the death of over 4,500 soldiers, massive reduction in core resources and life that was practically controlled by the state.

The government’s ambitious economic plans, along with the Depression, can be said to have lowered living standards and set Italy back by decades. However the historian D. Williamson claims that “Overall Italy was more prosperous in 1939 than in 1923…but this modest increase did not filter through equally to all sections of the Italian population.” I agree with D. Williamson in that although Mussolini’s foreign policy seemed successful at surface level, the average Italian did not greatly benefit. Mussolini aimed to make Italy feared around the world; he achieved his purpose, even though it enveloped the unforeseen reaction of contempt towards Italy, the fact that he bought economic ruin and eventual Civil War to the Italian people was unintentional.

"Mussolini" redirects here. For other people named Mussolini, see Mussolini family.

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (; Italian: [beˈnito mussoˈlini];[1] 29 July 1883 – 28 April 1945) was an Italian politician and journalist who was the leader of the National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista; PNF). He ruled Italy as Prime Minister from 1922 to 1943 – constitutionally until 1925, when he dropped the pretense of democracy and established a dictatorship.

Known as Il Duce ("The Leader"), Mussolini was the founder of Italian Fascism.[2][3][4] In 1912, Mussolini had been a leading member of the National Directorate of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI),[5] but was expelled from the PSI for advocating military intervention in World War I, in opposition to the party's stance on neutrality. Mussolini served in the Royal Italian Army during the war until he was wounded and discharged in 1917. Mussolini denounced the PSI, his views now centering on nationalism instead of socialism and later founded the fascist movement which came to oppose egalitarianism[6] and class conflict, instead advocating revolutionary nationalism transcending class lines. Following the March on Rome in October 1922, Mussolini became the youngest Prime Minister in Italian history until the appointment of Matteo Renzi in February 2014. After removing all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes,[8] Mussolini and his followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a one-party dictatorship. Within five years, Mussolini had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means and aspired to create a totalitarian state. Mussolini remained in power until he was deposed by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1943, but a few months later he became the leader of the Italian Social Republic, a German client regime in northern Italy – Mussolini held this post until his death in 1945.[9]

Mussolini had sought to delay a major war in Europe until at least 1942,[citation needed] but Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. This resulted in declarations of war by France and the UK and the start of World War II. On 10 June 1940—with the Fall of France imminent—Italy officially entered the war on the side of Germany, though he was aware that Italy did not have the military capacity and resources to carry out a long war with the British Empire.[10] Mussolini believed that after the imminent French armistice, Italy could gain territorial concessions from France and then he could concentrate his forces on a major offensive in North Africa, where British and Commonwealth forces were outnumbered by Italian forces.[11] However, the UK government refused to accept proposals for a peace that would involve accepting Axis victories in Eastern and Western Europe, plans for an invasion of the UK did not proceed and the war continued. In the summer of 1941, Mussolini sent Italian forces to participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union and war with the United States followed in December. In 1943, Italy suffered one disaster after another: by February the Red Army had completely destroyed the Italian Army in Russia (ARMIR), May saw the collapse of the Axis in North Africa, on 9 July the Allies invaded Sicily, and by the 16th it became clear the German summer offensive in the USSR had failed. As a consequence, early on 25 July, the Grand Council of Fascism passed a motion of no confidence for Mussolini; later that day the King dismissed him as head of government and had him placed in custody. On 12 September 1943, Mussolini was rescued from captivity in the Gran Sasso raid by Germanparatroopers and Waffen-SScommandos led by Major Otto-Harald Mors.

Adolf Hitler, after meeting with the rescued former dictator, then put Mussolini in charge of a puppet regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Italian: Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI), informally known as the Salò Republic. In late April 1945, in the wake of near total defeat, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci attempted to flee to Switzerland,[13] but both were captured by Italian communists and summarily executed by firing squad on 28 April 1945 near Lake Como. His body was then taken to Milan, where it was hung upside down at a service station to publicly confirm his demise.[14]

Early life

Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883 in Dovia di Predappio, a small town in the province of Forlì in Romagna. Later, during the Fascist era, Predappio was dubbed "Duce's town" and Forlì was called "Duce's city", with pilgrims going to Predappio and Forlì to see the birthplace of Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini's father, Alessandro Mussolini, was a blacksmith and a socialist,[15] while his mother, Rosa (née Maltoni), was a devout Catholic schoolteacher.[16] Owing to his father's political leanings, Mussolini was named Benito after Mexican leftist president Benito Juárez, while his middle names Andrea and Amilcare were from Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani.[17] Benito was the eldest of his parents' three children. His siblings Arnaldo and Edvige followed.[18]

As a young boy, Mussolini would spend some time helping his father in his smithy.[19] Mussolini's early political views were heavily influenced by his father who idolized 19th-century Italian nationalist figures with humanist tendencies such as Carlo Pisacane, Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. His father's political outlook combined views of anarchist figures like Carlo Cafiero and Mikhail Bakunin, the military authoritarianism of Garibaldi, and the nationalism of Mazzini. In 1902, at the anniversary of Garibaldi's death, Mussolini made a public speech in praise of the republican nationalist. The conflict between his parents about religion meant that, unlike most Italians, Mussolini was not baptized at birth and would not be until much later in life. As a compromise with his mother, Mussolini was sent to a boarding school run by Salesian monks. After joining a new school, Mussolini achieved good grades, and qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901.[16]

Emigration to Switzerland and military service

In 1902, Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland, partly to avoid military service.[15] He worked briefly as a stonemason in Geneva, Fribourg and Bern, but was unable to find a permanent job.

During this time he studied the ideas of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the sociologistVilfredo Pareto, and the syndicalistGeorges Sorel. Mussolini also later credited the Christian socialistCharles Péguy and the syndicalistHubert Lagardelle as some of his influences.[22] Sorel's emphasis on the need for overthrowing decadent liberal democracy and capitalism by the use of violence, direct action, the general strike and the use of neo-Machiavellian appeals to emotion, impressed Mussolini deeply.[15]

Mussolini became active in the Italian socialist movement in Switzerland, working for the paper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore, organizing meetings, giving speeches to workers, and serving as secretary of the Italian workers' union in Lausanne.[23]Angelica Balabanov reportedly introduced him to Vladimir Lenin; Lenin later criticized Italian socialists for having lost Mussolini from their cause.[24] In 1903, he was arrested by the Bernese police because of his advocacy of a violent general strike, spent two weeks in jail, was deported to Italy, was set free there, and returned to Switzerland.[25] In 1904, having been arrested again in Geneva and expelled for falsifying his papers, he returned to Lausanne, where he attended the University of Lausanne's Department of Social Science, following the lessons of Vilfredo Pareto.[26] In December 1904, he returned to Italy to take advantage of an amnesty for desertion, for which he had been convicted in absentia.[27]

Since a condition for being pardoned was serving in the army, he joined the corps of the Bersaglieri in Forlì on 30 December 1904.[28] After serving for two years in the military (from January 1905 until September 1906), he returned to teaching.[29]

Political journalist, intellectual and socialist

In February 1909,[30] Mussolini once again left Italy, this time to take the job as the secretary of the labor party in the Italian-speaking city of Trento, which at the time was part of Austria-Hungary. He also did office work for the local Socialist Party, and edited its newspaper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore (The Future of the Worker). Returning to Italy, he spent a brief time in Milan, and then in 1910 he returned to his hometown of Forlì, where he edited the weekly Lotta di classe (The Class Struggle).

Mussolini thought of himself as an intellectual and was considered to be well-read. He read avidly, his favorites in European philosophy included Sorel, the Italian Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, French Socialist Gustave Hervé, Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta and German philosophers Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, the founders of Marxism.[31][32] Mussolini had taught himself French and German and translated excerpts from Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kant.

During this time, he published Il Trentino veduto da un Socialista (Trentino as seen by a Socialist) in the radical periodical La Voce.[33] He also wrote several essays about German literature, some stories, and one novel: L'amante del Cardinale: Claudia Particella, romanzo storico (The Cardinal's Mistress). This novel he co-wrote with Santi Corvaja, and was published as a serial book in the Trento newspaper Il Popolo. It was released in installments from 20 January to 11 May 1910.[34] The novel was bitterly anticlerical, and years later was withdrawn from circulation after Mussolini made a truce with the Vatican.[15]

By now, he was one of Italy's most prominent socialists. In September 1911, Mussolini participated in a riot, led by socialists, against the Italian war in Libya. He bitterly denounced Italy's "imperialist war", an action that earned him a five-month jail term.[35] After his release he helped expel from the Socialist Party two "revisionists" who had supported the war, Ivanoe Bonomi and Leonida Bissolati. As a result, he was rewarded the editorship of the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti! Under his leadership, its circulation soon rose from 20,000 to 100,000.[36]John Gunther in 1940 called him "one of the best journalists alive"; he was a working reporter while preparing for the March on Rome, and wrote for the Hearst News Service until 1935.[24] Mussolini was so familiar with Marxist literature that in his own writings he would not only quote from well-known Marxist works but also from the relatively obscure works.[37] During this period, Mussolini, like all revolutionaries, considered himself a Marxist and he described Marx as "the greatest of all theorists of socialism."[38]

In 1913, he published Giovanni Hus, il veridico (Jan Hus, true prophet), an historical and political biography about the life and mission of the Czech ecclesiastic reformer Jan Hus and his militant followers, the Hussites. During this socialist period of his life, Mussolini sometimes used the pen name "Vero Eretico" ("sincere heretic").[39]

Mussolini rejected egalitarianism, a core doctrine of socialism.[6] He was influenced by Nietzsche's anti-Christian ideas and negation of God's existence. Mussolini felt that socialism had faltered, in view of the failures of Marxist determinism and social democraticreformism, and believed that Nietzsche's ideas would strengthen socialism. While associated with socialism, Mussolini's writings eventually indicated that he had abandoned Marxism and egalitarianism in favor of Nietzsche's übermensch concept and anti-egalitarianism.

Expulsion from the Italian Socialist Party

With the outbreak of World War I a number of socialist parties initially supported the war when it began in August 1914. Once the war began, Austrian, British, French, German, and Russian socialists followed the rising nationalist current by supporting their country's intervention in the war. The outbreak of the war had resulted in a surge of Italian nationalism and the war was supported by a variety of political factions. One of the most prominent and popular Italian nationalist supporters of the war was Gabriele d'Annunzio who promoted Italian irredentism and helped sway the Italian public to support intervention in the war. The Italian Liberal Party under the leadership of Paolo Boselli promoted intervention in the war on the side of the Allies and utilized the Società Dante Alighieri to promote Italian nationalism. Italian socialists were divided on whether to support the war or oppose it. Prior to Mussolini taking a position on the war, a number of revolutionary syndicalists had announced their support of intervention, including Alceste De Ambris, Filippo Corridoni, and Angelo Oliviero Olivetti. The Italian Socialist Party decided to oppose the war after anti-militarist protestors had been killed, resulting in a general strike called Red Week.

Mussolini initially held official support for the party's decision and, in an August 1914 article, Mussolini wrote "Down with the War. We remain neutral."[49] He saw the war as an opportunity, both for his own ambitions as well as those of socialists and Italians.[49] He was influenced by anti-Austrian Italian nationalist sentiments, believing that the war offered Italians in Austria-Hungary the chance to liberate themselves from rule of the Habsburgs.[49] He eventually decided to declare support for the war by appealing to the need for socialists to overthrow the Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies in Germany and Austria-Hungary who he said had consistently repressed socialism.[49]

Mussolini further justified his position by denouncing the Central Powers for being reactionary powers; for pursuing imperialist designs against Belgium and Serbia as well as historically against Denmark, France, and against Italians, since hundreds of thousands of Italians were under Habsburg rule. He argued that the fall of Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies and the repression of "reactionary" Turkey would create conditions beneficial for the working class. While he was supportive of the Entente powers, Mussolini responded to the conservative nature of Tsarist Russia by stating that the mobilization required for the war would undermine Russia's reactionary authoritarianism and the war would bring Russia to social revolution. He said that for Italy the war would complete the process of Risorgimento by uniting the Italians in Austria-Hungary into Italy and by allowing the common people of Italy to be participating members of the Italian nation in what would be Italy's first national war. Thus he claimed that the vast social changes that the war could offer meant that it should be supported as a revolutionary war.

As Mussolini's support for the intervention solidified, he came into conflict with socialists who opposed the war. He attacked the opponents of the war and claimed that those proletarians who supported pacifism were out of step with the proletarians who had joined the rising interventionist vanguard that was preparing Italy for a revolutionary war. He began to criticize the Italian Socialist Party and socialism itself for having failed to recognize the national problems that had led to the outbreak of the war. He was expelled from the party for his support of intervention.

The following excerpts are from a police report prepared by the Inspector-General of Public Security in Milan, G. Gasti, that describe his background and his position on the First World War that resulted in his ousting from the Italian Socialist Party. The Inspector General wrote:

Professor Benito Mussolini, ... 38, revolutionary socialist, has a police record; elementary school teacher qualified to teach in secondary schools; former first secretary of the Chambers in Cesena, Forlì, and Ravenna; after 1912 editor of the newspaper Avanti! to which he gave a violent suggestive and intransigent orientation. In October 1914, finding himself in opposition to the directorate of the Italian Socialist party because he advocated a kind of active neutrality on the part of Italy in the War of the Nations against the party's tendency of absolute neutrality, he withdrew on the twentieth of that month from the directorate of Avanti! Then on the fifteenth of November [1914], thereafter, he initiated publication of the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia, in which he supported – in sharp contrast to Avanti! and amid bitter polemics against that newspaper and its chief backers – the thesis of Italian intervention in the war against the militarism of the Central Empires. For this reason he was accused of moral and political unworthiness and the party thereupon decided to expel him ... Thereafter he ... undertook a very active campaign in behalf of Italian intervention, participating in demonstrations in the piazzas and writing quite violent articles in Popolo d'Italia ...[36]

In his summary, the Inspector also noted:

He was the ideal editor of Avanti! for the Socialists. In that line of work he was greatly esteemed and beloved. Some of his former comrades and admirers still confess that there was no one who understood better how to interpret the spirit of the proletariat and there was no one who did not observe his apostasy with sorrow. This came about not for reasons of self-interest or money. He was a sincere and passionate advocate, first of vigilant and armed neutrality, and later of war; and he did not believe that he was compromising with his personal and political honesty by making use of every means – no matter where they came from or wherever he might obtain them – to pay for his newspaper, his program and his line of action. This was his initial line. It is difficult to say to what extent his socialist convictions (which he never either openly or privately abjure) may have been sacrificed in the course of the indispensable financial deals which were necessary for the continuation of the struggle in which he was engaged ... But assuming these modifications did take place ... he always wanted to give the appearance of still being a socialist, and he fooled himself into thinking that this was the case.[50]

Beginning of Fascism and service in World War I

After being ousted by the Italian Socialist Party for his support of Italian intervention, Mussolini made a radical transformation, ending his support for class conflict and joining in support of revolutionary nationalism transcending class lines. He formed the interventionist newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia and the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista ("Revolutionary Fasci for International Action") in October 1914. His nationalist support of intervention enabled him to raise funds from Ansaldo (an armaments firm) and other companies to create Il Popolo d'Italia to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war.[51] Further funding for Mussolini's Fascists during the war came from French sources, beginning in May 1915. A major source of this funding from France is believed to have been from French socialists who sent support to dissident socialists who wanted Italian intervention on France's side.

On 5 December 1914, Mussolini denounced orthodox socialism for failing to recognize that the war had made national identity and loyalty more significant than class distinction. He fully demonstrated his transformation in a speech that acknowledged the nation as an entity, a notion he had rejected prior to the war, saying:

The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that the concept was totally without substance. Instead we see the nation arise as a palpitating reality before us! ... Class cannot destroy the nation. Class reveals itself as a collection of interests—but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, and race. Class can become an integral part of the nation, but the one cannot eclipse the other.

The class struggle is a vain formula, without effect and consequence wherever one finds a people that has not integrated itself into its proper linguistic and racial confines—where the national problem has not been definitely resolved. In such circumstances the class movement finds itself impaired by an inauspicious historic climate.

Mussolini continued to promote the need of a revolutionary vanguard elite to lead society. He no longer advocated a proletarian vanguard, but instead a vanguard led by dynamic and revolutionary people of any social class. Though he denounced orthodox socialism and class conflict, he maintained at the time that he was a nationalist socialist and a supporter of the legacy of nationalist socialists in Italy's history, such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Carlo Pisacane. As for the Italian Socialist Party and its support of orthodox socialism, he claimed that his failure as a member of the party to revitalize and transform it to recognize the contemporary reality revealed the hopelessness of orthodox socialism as outdated and a failure. This perception of the failure of orthodox socialism in the light of the outbreak of World War I was not solely held by Mussolini; other pro-interventionist Italian socialists such as Filippo Corridoni and Sergio Panunzio had also denounced classical Marxism in favor of intervention.

These basic political views and principles formed the basis of Mussolini's newly formed political movement, the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista in 1914, who called themselves Fascisti (Fascists). At this time, the Fascists did not have an integrated set of policies and the movement was small, ineffective in its attempts to hold mass meetings, and was regularly harassed by government authorities and orthodox socialists. Antagonism between the interventionists, including the Fascists, versus the anti-interventionist orthodox socialists resulted in violence between the Fascists and socialists. The opposition and attacks by the anti-interventionist revolutionary socialists against the Fascists and other interventionists were so violent that even democratic socialists who opposed the war such as Anna Kuliscioff said that the Italian Socialist Party had gone too far in a campaign of silencing the freedom of speech of supporters of the war. These early hostilities between the Fascists and the revolutionary socialists shaped Mussolini's conception of the nature of Fascism in its support of political violence.

Mussolini became an ally with the irredentist politician and journalist Cesare Battisti and—like him—entered the Army and served in the war. "He was sent to the zone of operations where he was seriously injured by the explosion of a grenade."[36]

The Inspector General continued:

He was promoted to the rank of corporal "for merit in war". The promotion was recommended because of his exemplary conduct and fighting quality, his mental calmness and lack of concern for discomfort, his zeal and regularity in carrying out his assignments, where he was always first in every task involving labor and fortitude.[36]

Mussolini's military experience is told in his work Diario di guerra. Overall, he totaled about nine months of active, front-line trench warfare. During this time, he contracted paratyphoid fever.[60] His military exploits ended in 1917 when he was wounded accidentally by the explosion of a mortar bomb in his trench. He was left with at least 40 shards of metal in his body.[60] He was discharged from the hospital in August 1917 and resumed his editor-in-chief position at his new paper, Il Popolo d'Italia. He wrote there positive articles about Czechoslovak Legions in Italy.

On 25 December 1915, in Treviglio, he contracted a marriage with his fellow countrywoman Rachele Guidi, who had already borne him a daughter, Edda, at Forlì in 1910. In 1915, he had a son with Ida Dalser, a woman born in Sopramonte, a village near Trento.[16][17][61] He legally recognized this son on 11 January 1916.

Rise to power

Formation of the National Fascist Party

Main articles: Fascism and Italian Fascism

By the time he returned from service in the Allied forces of World War I, very little remained of Mussolini the socialist. Indeed, he was now convinced that socialism as a doctrine had largely been a failure. In 1917 Mussolini got his start in politics with the help of a £100 weekly wage (the equivalent of £6000 as of 2009[update]) from the British security service MI5, to keep anti-war protestors at home and to publish pro-war propaganda. This help was authorized by Sir Samuel Hoare.[62] In early 1918 Mussolini called for the emergence of a man "ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep" to revive the Italian nation.[63] Much later Mussolini said he felt by 1919 "Socialism as a doctrine was already dead; it continued to exist only as a grudge".[64] On 23 March 1919 Mussolini re-formed the Milan fascio as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad), consisting of 200 members.[65]

The ideological basis for fascism came from a number of sources. Mussolini utilized works of Plato, Georges Sorel, Nietzsche, and the economic ideas of Vilfredo Pareto, to develop fascism. Mussolini admired Plato's The Republic, which he often read for inspiration.The Republic expounded a number of ideas that fascism promoted, such as rule by an elite promoting the state as the ultimate end, opposition to democracy, protecting the class system and promoting class collaboration, rejection of egalitarianism, promoting the militarization of a nation by creating a class of warriors, demanding that citizens perform civic duties in the interest of the state, and utilizing state intervention in education to promote the development of warriors and future rulers of the state.[67]The Republic differed from fascism in that it did not promote aggressive war, but only defensive war. Also unlike fascism, it promoted very communist-like views on property. Plato was an idealist, focused on achieving justice and morality, while Mussolini and fascism were realist, focused on achieving political goals.[68]

The idea behind Mussolini's foreign policy was that of spazio vitale (vital space), a concept in Fascism that was analogous to Lebensraum in German National Socialism. The concept of spazio vitale was first announced in 1919, when the entire Mediterranean, especially so-called Julian March, was redefined to make it appear a unified region that had belonged to Italy from the times of the ancient Roman province of Italia,[70][71] and was claimed as Italy's exclusive sphere of influence. The right to colonize the neighboring Slovene ethnic areas and the Mediterranean, being inhabited by what were alleged to be less developed peoples, was justified on the grounds that Italy was allegedly suffering from overpopulation.

Borrowing the idea first developed by Enrico Corradini before 1914 of the natural conflict between "plutocratic" nations like Britain and "proletarian" nations like Italy, Mussolini claimed that Italy's principal problem was that "plutocratic" countries like Britain were blocking Italy from achieving the necessary spazio vitale that would let the Italian economy grow. Mussolini equated a nation's potential for economic growth with territorial size, thus in his view the problem of poverty in Italy could only be solved by winning the necessary spazio vitale.

Though biological racism was less prominent in Fascism than in National Socialism, right from the start the spazio vitale concept had a strong racist undercurrent. Mussolini asserted there was a "natural law" for stronger peoples to subject and dominate "inferior" peoples such as the "barbaric" Slavic peoples of Yugoslavia. He stated in a September 1920 speech:

When dealing with such a race as Slavic – inferior and barbarian – we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy ... We should not be afraid of new victims ... The Italian border should run across the Brenner Pass, Monte Nevoso and the Dinaric Alps ... I would say we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians ...

— Benito Mussolini, speech held in Pula, 20 September 1920[75][76]

While Italy occupied former Austro-Hungarian areas between years 1918 and 1920, five hundred "Slav" societies (for example Sokol) and slightly smaller number of libraries ("reading rooms") had been forbidden, specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926) – the closure of the classical lyceum in Pazin, of the high school in Voloska (1918), and the five hundred Slovene and Croatian primary schools followed.[77] One thousand "Slav" teachers were forcibly exiled to Sardinia and to Southern Italy.

In the same way, Mussolini argued that Italy was right to follow an imperialist policy in Africa because he saw all black people as "inferior" to whites. Mussolini claimed that the world was divided into a hierarchy of races (stirpe, though this was justified more on cultural than on biological grounds), and that history was nothing more than a Darwinian struggle for power and territory between various "racial masses". Mussolini saw high birthrates in Africa and Asia as a threat to the "white race" and he often asked the rhetorical question "Are the blacks and yellows at the door?" to be followed up with "Yes, they are!".[79] Mussolini believed that the United States was doomed as the American blacks had a higher birthrate than whites, making it inevitable that the blacks would take over the United States to drag it down to their level.[79] The very fact that Italy was suffering from overpopulation was seen as proving the cultural and spiritual vitality of the Italians, who were thus justified in seeking to colonize lands that Mussolini argued – on a historical basis – belonged to Italy anyway, which was the heir to the Roman Empire. In Mussolini's thinking, demography was destiny; nations with rising populations were nations destined to conquer; and nations with falling populations were decaying powers that deserved to die. Hence, the importance of natalism to Mussolini, since only by increasing the birth rate could Italy ensure that its future as a great power that would win its spazio vitale would be assured. By Mussolini's reckoning, the Italian population had to reach 60 million to enable Italy to fight a major war—hence his relentless demands for Italian women to have more children in order to reach that number.

Mussolini and the fascists managed to be simultaneously revolutionary and traditionalist;[80][81] because this was vastly different from anything else in the political climate of the time, it is sometimes described[by whom?] as "The Third Way".[82] The Fascisti, led by one of Mussolini's close confidants, Dino Grandi, formed armed squads of war veterans called blackshirts (or squadristi) with the goal of restoring order to the streets of Italy with a strong hand. The blackshirts clashed with communists, socialists, and anarchists at parades and demonstrations; all of these factions were also involved in clashes against each other. The Italian government rarely interfered with the blackshirts' actions, owing in part to a looming threat and widespread fear of a communist revolution. The Fascisti grew rapidly; within two years they transformed themselves into the National Fascist Party at a congress in Rome. In 1921, Mussolini won election to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time.[17] In the meantime, from about 1911 until 1938, Mussolini had various affairs with the Jewish author and academic Margherita Sarfatti, called the "Jewish Mother of Fascism" at the time.[83]

March on Rome

Further information: March on Rome

In the night between 27 and 28 October 1922, about 30,000 Fascist blackshirts gathered in Rome to demand the resignation of liberal Prime Minister Luigi Facta and the appointment of a new Fascist government. On the morning of 28 October, King Victor Emmanuel III, who according to the Albertine Statute held the supreme military power, refused the government request to declare martial law, which led to Facta's resignation. The King then handed over power to Mussolini (who stayed in his headquarters in Milan during the talks) by asking him to form a new government. The King's controversial decision has been explained by historians as a combination of delusions and fears; Mussolini enjoyed a wide support in the military and among the industrial and agrarian elites, while the King and the conservative establishment were afraid of a possible civil war and ultimately thought they could use Mussolini to restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.[84]

Appointment as Prime Minister

As Prime Minister, the first years of Mussolini's rule were characterized by a right-wing coalition government composed of Fascists, nationalists, liberals, and two Catholic clerics from the Popular Party. The Fascists made up a small minority in his original governments. Mussolini's domestic goal was the eventual establishment of a totalitarian state with himself as supreme leader (Il Duce), a message that was articulated by the Fascist newspaper Il Popolo, which was now edited by Mussolini's brother, Arnaldo. To that end, Mussolini obtained from the legislature dictatorial powers for one year (legal under the Italian constitution of the time). He favored the complete restoration of state authority, with the integration of the Fasci di Combattimento

Birthplace of Benito Mussolini in Predappio—the building is now used as a museum

Mussolini's father, Alessandro

Mussolini's mother, Rosa

Mussolini's booking file following his arrest by the police on 19 June 1903, Bern, Switzerland
A portrait of Mussolini during early 1900s
Members of Italy's Arditi corps in 1918 holding daggers, a symbol of their group. The Arditi's black uniform and use of the fez were adopted by Mussolini in the creation of his Fascist movement.
Mussolini as an Italian soldier, 1917
The platform of Fasci italiani di combattimento, as published in "Il Popolo d'Italia" on 6 June 1919
Italia Irredenta: regions considered Italian for ethnic, geographic and/or historical reasons, and claimed by the Fascists in the 1930s: green: Nice, Ticino, and Dalmatia; red: Malta; violet: later claims extended to Corsica, Savoy and Corfu.
Mussolini during the 1920s

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