Benito Mussolini was born on July 29th 1883 near Predappio, in north-east Italy. His father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith while his mother, Rosa, was a school teacher. Mussolini had a younger brother and younger sister. Despite having two incomes coming in to the house, the Mussolini’s were poor, as were many families in Italy at this time.
As soon as he was able to do so, Mussolini helped out his father in his forge. Working with his father gave the two time to talk. Alessandro was a socialist and a republican. He believed that there should be a fairer share of wealth in Italy and that the monarchy should be scrapped. Alessandro wanted the people to decide who should lead them. He did not accept a system whereby his son would automatically follow the king. Many Italians shared the views of Mussolini’s father and it would have been normal for the young Mussolini to take on board what his father said.
The young Mussolini grew up in an environment where the talk would have been about socialism, republicanism and nationalism. He also grew up supporting the view of his father that the Roman Catholic Church was an enemy of Italy as it did not support the state itself.
Mussolini did not take to school. He found that he rebelled against most things. Catholic monks ran his first school. His mother had insisted on him attending such a school but his behaviour was so bad that he got expelled from it.
Mussolini did better at his next school and he went on to become a qualified teacher even if he was not interested in teaching. Mussolini had developed passions for politics.
In June 1902, Mussolini went to Switzerland. He took with him no obvious skills and he was forced to live rough. He got involved with some Italian socialists who worked in Switzerland, got employment as a bricklayer and joined a trade union. He got expelled from Switzerland in 1903 when he suggested a general strike – a very revolutionary idea then.
Mussolini went south to the Po Valley. Here he helped the farmers in their efforts to get a better wage. He became the secretary of the local socialist party in Forli and became the editor of the socialist newspaper “The Class Struggle” (La Lotta di Classe).
World War One saw a major change in Mussolini. At the start of the war, as with most if not all socialists, he condemned the war as workers being forced to fight other workers while the factory bosses got richer at their expense. However, his views changed during the war.
In “Avanti” he wrote:
Mussolini still claimed to be a socialist but his colleagues disagreed. At a meeting in Milan they decided to expel him from the Socialist Party. He told them
Why did Mussolini change his stance? It is possible that the influence of his father’s nationalism might have taken precedence over his socialism. But Mussolini, like many others in Europe, answered his country’s call when it was needed. In August 1915, Mussolini had been called up for military service.
Mussolini in World War One
He joined the army and rose to the rank of corporal. A mortar bomb wounded him in February 1917 and this put an end to his military service.
Italy got very little out of the Treaty of Versailles. She had fought on the side of the Allies and expected more as a member of the conquering nations. In fact, Orlando, the Italian representative at Versailles, had been barely spoken to by the American, British and French representatives. This by itself, insulted Italian national pride.
After the war, Mussolini became very influenced by Gabriele D’Annunzio; an Italian nationalist who felt Italy should have got more out of the Versailles Treaty. During the war, D’Annunzio had made daring flying raids over Austria and showered some cities there with pamphlets explaining Italy’s rights to territory in the Adriatic. He became a national hero. In particular, D’Annunzio believed that Italy had a right to Fiume. AfterWorld War One, this port was given to the newly created Yugoslavia but many Italians lived there. D’Annunzio tried to take the port using force.