From its origins, (possibly Roman) until the 1920s, Predappio was a rural town of modest size, situated on the hills of Forlì. Augustus divided Italy into eleven provinces and Predappio was within the sixth province. It is believed that the town name derives from the installation in those locations of an ancient Roman family: the Appi. The town was so named Praesidium Domini Appi and abbreviated to Pre.DiAppi.
Historically the town developed around tDovia(probably a corruption of the local Roman Road Duo Via).
Benito Mussolini was born in Predappio in 1883. After a landslide which hit the town and left many people homeless, it was decided to build a bigger, more prestigious township. The new town was built following the architectural dictates of the emerging new Fascist regime to celebrate the birthplace of Mussolini. Along with the nearby town of Forlì, Predappio was given the title of La Città del Duce (the City of the Duce ), and became a site of pilgrimage for Fascists, and more recently, neo-Fascists.
Born on July 29, 1883, in Dovia di Predappio, Forlì, Italy, Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was the eldest of three children. His father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith and an impassioned socialist who spent much of his time on politics and much of his money on his mistress. His mother, Rosa (Maltoni), was a devout Catholic schoolteacher who provided the family with some stability and income.(née Maltoni) was a devoutly Catholic schoolteacher. Owing to his father's political leanings, Mussolini was named Benito after Mexican reformist President Benito Juárez, while his middle names Andrea and Amilcare were from Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani. Benito was the eldest of his parents' three children. His siblings Arnaldo and Edvige followed.
As a young boy, Mussolini would spend some time helping his father in his smithy.Mussolini's early political views were heavily influenced by his father, Alessandro Mussolini, a revolutionary socialist 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 likeCarlo Cafiero and Mikhail Bakunin, the military authoritarianism of Garibaldi, and the nationalism of Mazzini. In 1902, at the anniversary of Garibaldi's death, Benito 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.
Emigration to Switzerland and military service
In 1902, Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland, partly to avoid military service. 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 sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, and thesyndicalist Georges Sorel. Mussolini also later credited theMarxist Charles Péguy and the syndicalist Hubert Lagardelle as some of his influences. 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 ofneo-Machiavellian appeals to emotion, impressed Mussolini deeply.
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. 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, set free there, and returned to Switzerland. In 1904, after 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. In December 1904, he returned to Italy to take advantage of an amnesty for desertion, for which he had been convicted in absentia.
Since condition for being pardoned was serving in the army, on 30 December 1904, he joined the corps of the Bersaglieri in Forlì. After serving for two years in the military (from January 1905 until September 1906), he returned to teaching.
In February 1909,] 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 Forli, where he edited the weekly Lotta di classe (The Class Struggle).
During this time, he published Il Trentino veduto da un Socialista (Trentino as seen by a Socialist) in the radical periodical La Voce. 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 1911 The novel was bitterly anticlerical, and years later was withdrawn from circulation after Mussolini made a truce with the Vatican.
By now, he was considered to be 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" to capture the Libyan capital city of Tripoli, an action that earned him a five-month jail term. After his release he helped expel from the ranks of 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.
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 misbeliever).
While Mussolini was associated with socialism, he also was supportive of figures who opposedegalitarianism. For instance Mussolini was influenced by Nietszche's anti-Christian ideas and negation of God's existence. Mussolini saw Nietzsche as similar to Jean-Marie Guyau, who advocated a philosophy of action. Mussolini's use of Nietzsche made him a highly unorthodox socialist, due to Nietzsche's promotion of elitism and anti-egalitarian views. Mussolini felt that socialism had faltered due to the failures of Marxist determinism and social democratic reformism, 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 nationalismand 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 theSocietà 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 revolutionarysyndicalists had announced their support of intervention, including Alceste De Ambris, Filippo Corridoni, andAngelo 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." He saw the war as an opportunity, both for his own ambitions as well as those of socialists and Italians. 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 theHabsburgs. 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 whom he claimed had consistently repressed socialism. He further justified his position by denouncing the Central Powersfor 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 claimed 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 claiming that the mobilization required for the war would undermine Russia's reactionary authoritarianism and the war would bring Russia to social revolution. He claimed that for Italy the war would complete the process ofRisorgimento 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 due to 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 ouster from the Italian Socialist Party.
The Inspector General wrote:
- Regarding Mussolini
- 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, Forli, 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 , 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 ...
In his summary, the Inspector also notes:
- 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.
Beginning of Fascism and service in World War IAfter 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 fromAnsaldo (an armaments firm) and other companies to create Il Popolo d'Italia to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war.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.
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 asGiuseppe 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 themselve 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 he 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."The Inspector General continues:
- 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'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 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 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 aboutCzechoslovak Legions in Italy.
- 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.