From Socialist to Fascist – Benito Mussolini in World War 1 I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

From Socialist to Fascist – Benito Mussolini in World War 1 I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

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The war affected all who lived through to
a great extent, but perhaps it was even greater for those who would become leaders in the
postwar world, as their actions had such a strong effect on their nations and on the
Second World War. One such man was Benito Mussolini I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to our Great War
bio series “Who did what in World War One?” today featuring Benito Mussolini. Benito Andrea Amilcare Mussolini was born
July 29th, 1883. He was named Benito after Mexican politician
and reformer Benito Juarez, Andrea after the founder of the Socialist party in the Romagna
region, and Amilcare after an Italian patriot killed during the Paris Commune. His father
was a blacksmith and his mother an elementary school teacher. Now, his father was active in left-wing politics
and rabidly anti-clerical, while his mother was a devout Catholic. His father founded
the local chapter of the socialist party and was elected to the City Council. He was busy
with worker and farm labor movements, but Benito’s parents’ contrasting views and
his father’s political activities were a big strain and a source of humiliation at
school. Students were seated at the dining hall according to the fees their parents paid,
and Benito sat at the lowest table. Later in life he would often recall bread crawling
with ants. As a student, he was known as “never the
person provoked, always the one provoking.” He was also known for his frequent use of
knives. After his education he became an elementary school teacher, but an affair with a woman
whose husband was in the army caused him to emigrate to Switzerland in 1902. His first
purchase there was a knife, and he would eventually be expelled from Geneva Canton for using knives.
He took up fencing and dueling, which only stopped when he became Prime Minister. I know
the knife thing isn’t really important, but I thought it was interesting. So, 19 year old Mussolini in Switzerland. He became a labor agitator and was arrested
in 1903, and spent some time going back and forth between Italy and Switzerland, but when
he was called up for obligatory Italian military service, he did not go, and was sentenced
for desertion in absentia. He eventually got an amnesty and returned to Italy, but only
served two of 20 months in the army because of his mother’s death. At this time, he was writing articles for
periodicals such as The Workers’ Future and Socialist Avantgarde, and even articles
for The Proletariat that appeared in the United States. He was described in this period as,
“a revolutionary socialist with deep anarchic roots and a highly-developed affinity for
revolutionary labor-unionism.” He taught school for a few years before moving
to Trent in 1909 where he became secretary of the local socialist party and ran its newspaper.
Trent was in Austria-Hungary at the time, and he had run-ins with the Imperial police. He returned to Italy and in September 1911
a general strike was called. There were protests and violence and Mussolini was arrested and
spent six months in prison. Now, around this time there was a split in
the socialist party. A socialist was, for the first time, invited to join the selection
for Prime Minister. Mussolini and the revolutionary socialists thought this was a capitulation
to the bourgeoisie, so his section left the party and expelled all reformist socialists
from their ranks. He soon moved to Milan to edit the socialist paper Avanti. That’s
where he was when the war broke out. We’ve talked a lot about Italy’s descent
into war so I’m not going to do it here, but Mussolini called for neutrality. Socialism
saw itself as an international movement loyal only to the workers, not national boundaries.
Italy was, at the outbreak of war, allied with Austria-Hungary and Germany, but Mussolini
wrote much about absolute neutrality and the many reasons he felt it was necessary. But there was a struggle between neutralists
and interventionists and with time, Mussolini began to vacillate on neutrality. Socialist parties in other belligerent nations
supported their country’s war effort. Mussolini still called for neutrality in Avanti, but
he was heard expressing sympathy for France privately, and was publicly accused of being
a Francophile. Critics called him two-faced; he said he had a private and a public self.
So, in October 1914 there was a war of editorials between Mussolini and his critics. On October
8th, he wrote this, “I am not a genius, but I am not an idiot either. And I am not
ashamed to confess that my thoughts have gone back and forth, been filled with uncertainty
and fears… who in Italy has not struggled over this?” By the end of the month he promoted active
neutrality over absolute neutrality, saying that this was a war of German aggression,
and that a party that wants to be part of history cannot be limited by unchallenged
dogma. “Italian socialists take note: sometimes it happens that the letter kills the spirit,
we will not save the letter of the party if it means killing the spirit of socialism.” The first fasci, small groups that supported
intervention, were soon formed, based on a manifesto that said that workers should be
on the side of France, cradle of revolution, and Britain, home of every liberty, and the
socialist revolution will follow the achievement of national self-determination. Mussolini was actually expelled from the Italian
Socialist Party in November, resigned from the Avanti in late October, and founded a
new paper, Il Popolo d’Italia. He began taking positions that were anything but socialist,
and interventionist fasci did things like setting fire to socialist offices. The French government, through its agents,
gave him 100,000 francs and some members of the French workers party had the specific
mission of pushing Italy into the war against the Central Powers. His paper was also financed by industrialists
who saw profit in war and in spring 1915, just when Italy was heading for war, it was
acknowledged that his newspaper had done “a great service to the French government.” Italy joined the war in May, Mussolini was
drafted, and on August 31st joined the 11th Regiment of the Bersaglieri. I want to be
clear here, by this point Mussolini was a real celebrity, one of the most famous men
in the country – some issues of Avanti had a circulation of 100,000 and soldiers and
officers often asked to meet him. He served in Monte Nero, Virsig, and Jaworcek,
and wrote a war diary for his paper that was a mixture of ideology and reportage. In many
ways he echoed the thoughts of Italian Army Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna. He thought morale
and the bayonet were more important than modern firepower and that the long list of dead soldiers
was an indicator of determination and the right to Great Power status. He exalted Italian
characteristics and tried to define what it meant to be an Italian. He was discharged in early 1917 after a grenade
supposedly went off during training. There were no eyewitnesses to this and he
had an unusually long convalescence – a few months in hospital and then a year’s leave
– and historian Paul O’Brien says the leave was so long because of syphilis and its complications,
however strings were being pulled to get him back to work in Milan anyhow. Mussolini turned to fight the enemy within
and the growing rejection of the war. He called for giving land to peasants that fought, and
fasci advocated for a postwar technocracy, where the men who return from the war would
be the new elite and run the nation. Britain was worried about Italian resolve to remain
in the war, Mussolini said, “I’ll get all the war wounded to break the heads of
any pacifists who carry out protests in Milan.” His paper began to get financing from the
British Secret Service and he provided anti-pacifist propaganda, mobilizing veterans and war wounded.
His newspaper changed its slogan from “newspaper of the socialists” to “newspaper of fighters
and producers” and the fascists were called to paralyze the efforts of neutralists. And the war ended with Italy on the winning
side. But the war did not bring the technocracy
and social change, and the industrialists didn’t want to lose the benefit of the wartime
economy. Italy was unsatisfied with the land it received postwar and fasci di combattimento
appeared, new fascist groups that grew out of the original interventionist ones. On March
23, 1919, the movement that brought them all together, the Fascist Movement was formed,
and after that? Well, that’s beyond the scope of this channel. This was just a brief
– very brief – look at what Benito Mussolini was doing before and during the war. You are
very much encouraged to look up all the rest. If you want to see how Italy actually joined
the war, click here for our special about that. We’d like to thank Madeline Johnson
for providing the research for this – and that – episode. If there’s someone you really
want to see a bio of, let us know in the comments, and if you’d like to help with the research
for a topic, contact Flo, our social media guy. See you next time.


  1. In the 1970 my Dad took our family to Washington DC, to the Library of Congress.
    It was amazing how much information was there on B.M. and American businessmen, Henry Ford.
    He funded his paper for almost 2 years.
    He was an isolationist/War profiter.
    His thought was if the US gets in the War. He'ld have to train new workers for his factories.

  2. lenin thought highly of mussolini and regretted that the cause lost him.
    mussolini had read das kapital and his main criticism was that marxism is not a complete doctrine for life- that the entirety of the history of mankind cannot and should not be reduced to just mere economics only

  3. If only Mussolini had fought a limited defensive war in the Mediterranean things would have been different. If he had taken Malta in 1940 Spain would have joined the war and attacked Gibraltar.

  4. "Mussolini said he had a private and a public self"
    Well gee, what a thing to have in common with Hillary Clinton, although probably with most politicians, come to think of it.

  5. From socialist to fascist…then back to socialist when re-installed into power. Almost like he was socialist the whole time. But wait…that would mean socialism is terrible! Socialist professors cant have that now can they?

  6. Just imagine being his student in school then years later fining out he is a dictator running your country then telling your friends "oh that's my school teacher Mr Mussolini"

  7. Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.
    -Benito Mussolini

    Me Ne Frego

  8. If you ever thought your teacher was bad, just remember that Benito Mussolini was a teacher once and you (hopefully) didn’t have him!

  9. I wish that we would have went to war with them, things would be a lot different if we had and Mexico would be so much better off right now, and so would we.

  10. Skorns fellow socialist for bending to the bourgeoisie
    Later becomes a fascist
    Yeh, that’s how it usually starts
    It’s how I met the fine people at /POL/

  11. Im not sure how being expelled from Socialist party and setting fire to their offices made his actions not socialist? It may have been a radical more aggressive ideology… but it was still socialist.

  12. Yes. I don't know why more attention isn't paid to the obvious connection of WWI to the future participants of WWII. It would be asinine to say that people like Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were not directly impacted by the fighting, or that it didn't highly influence their future governmental decisions.
    Indy – great episode, per usual. I probably wont get an answer to this question, but I always wonder if you are formally educated or an autodidact? Technically, one can be both, too, lol. As a fellow history fanatic, I am rather curious.

  13. October 20, 2018– It's amazing when Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini was arrested and then after they both became president or chancellor… Before people goes to jail and when people will be release from jail and then after people become evil president or chancellor… Kind of odd thing….

  14. Mussolini's power came from both the shape of his skull, and its bone
    matter. His brain was relatively less important. In this sense his
    skull ranks among the most powerful skulls in history.

  15. My great grandpa spoke out against fascism/Mussolini publicly and was told by a friend of his he had to leave Italy else, he would be killed because Mussolini followers were looking for him I'm soooo glad he left and spoke out.

  16. How could amilcare cipriani have been killed during the commune of paris if he died in 1918? He was captured but not killed..

  17. I'm seeing way too much nonsense equating socialism and fascism. Go look up what socialism is. Read socialist writing. The people saying that socialism is the same as fascism haven't actually read anything by socialists.

  18. Il fascismo è una cosa orribile che pure questa cosa qui neanche dovrebbe ritornare questa cosa per nessuna ragione. Ma menomale che il passato non ritornerà mai nel presente e nel futuro.

  19. Mussolini and his governor of Libya of the time killed my father’s grandfather by pushing him from the top of a mountain. And my mothers‘ Dad was prisoned as well as her uncles were hanged.

  20. Italian fascism is constituted as a result of funding (hidden) from England, passing through France. At the beginning Mussolini was a socialist politician, director of the main socialist newspaper that was called "Avanti". Towards the beginning of the First World War, Mussolini declared himself a pacifist following the orders of the "Socialist International". But during the First World War, it changes its will and becomes an interventionist. Why? The answer is that England wanted Italy to enter the First World War as its ally against the German Empire. Mussolini was expelled by the socialists and the "Avanti" management, but he "mysteriously" received money, which enabled him to found a new interventionist newspaper, and, as we know, Italy entered the First World War allied with England and against Germany. This fascist period ends with the end of the Second World War, when Mussolini, through a secret "correspondence" to Curchil, surrenders to the English. This is why the fascists preferred to surrender to the British rather than the French. After the Second World War, the British and the Americans tried to reorganize, and naturally control, the remains of the fascist organizations, to create something called the "Iron Curtain", to counter the propaganda of the Soviet Union, which after the beginning of the "cold war", constituted the new danger for the Peace and Wealth of Europe.

  21. From Socialist to Fascist, hmmmmm it almost like both are left wing ideology or something how does one go from 1 ideology to its polar opposite?

  22. If you dont know, the word fasci/fascio means a bundle, a fasci party has always been a red socialist party. Then somebody changed history to suit them and most ppl believe in it.

  23. This transition of socialism to fascism doesn't surprise me, the ideologies are technically different but practically the same, i mean how does the working class seizes power over the economy and institutes a socialist state without suppression of opposition and violence? Not possible, that's why when countries fail to implement we hear the excuse of not being "really" socialist.

  24. He allowed his fundamental darkness to create massive collective causes and now in modern day Italy the people are truly suffering and the only answer in their minds is to become fascist. It’s an evil and vile cycle and they will die off because it simply isn’t evergreen and it doesn’t support consciousness where we are all equal and deserve the dignity of life!

  25. Wow. Sounds like his early years were very similar to Stalin's. It's ironic how he turned out to be Fascist instead of a Communist.

  26. "He began to take positions that were anything but socialist? I beg to disagree. the root word of socialism is social for a reason, because it is a method of ideological rule, which operates by complete social enforcement of a single master ideology. Mussolini's fascism, was in every way still socialism, it was still collectivist, still ideological totalitarianism, still focused on centralization of government power, still anti capitalist. He was still socialist, just outside of the mainstream global socialist establishment.

  27. One thing is wrong with you title. Fascism is socialism. Socialism is Marxist. Mussolini was part of the Italian Marxist party before he came into power.

    The ''far left'' and the ''far right'' is the same thing.

  28. Guys! I love you, and I'm watching all the episodes. I just wanted to let you know that Amilcare Cipriani did partecipate to the Paris Commune, but didn't die in it!

  29. The word "Fascism" is used as a derogatory term for anyone who goes against the status-quo.

    Real Fascism… (Bundle), is a mix of social programmes, with the use of capital from big business to flow through the system.

    When Italy was on it's knees, Fascism cleaned up the whole system. It was healthy for the first time in decades.

  30. So, Mussolini changed from a Marxist Socialist to a Keynesian Socialist – Just like all his Fascist pals. Then abused the capitalist system as if it were on crack.

  31. With Mussolini, actually the knife thing was extremely important. The type of knife one of his black shirts carried reflected his rank.

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