The Character and Background of Mussolini

Benito Mussolini was born on the 29th July 1883, making him 39 in 1922 when he became Prime Minister. Born to a socialist blacksmith and a catholic school teacher, his early political views were largely influenced by his father as they worked away at his smithy together.  As a result of religious difficulties between his parents, Mussolini was not baptised until much later in his life.

He was then sent to a boarding school led by monks, but was soon expelled for stabbing a fellow pupil with a pencil, as well as being generally very disrespectful to the monks. At his next school, he went on to achieve pretty good grades and trained to be a primary school teacher.

In 1902 Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland, avoiding national service. During his time there he got very involved with the Italian socialist movement in Switzerland. At one point he was detained by the police in Bern for advocating a violent protest, and spent a fortnight in jail. A year later he volunteered for the army, and did his 2 years of national service despite trying to avoid it earlier on.

At the time, he was considered to be one of the country’s most prominent socialists. He participated in a riot which was protesting against the Italian war in Libya. For this he received a 5 month jail sentence and immediately after his release he was awarded editorship of ‘Avanti!’ an Italian socialist newspaper.

However, 2 years later Mussolini was expelled from the Socialist party because of his very nationalist views – after the outbreak of the First Word War, the Italian Socialist Party decided that they were against the war. At first, officially, Mussolini supported this, but he saw the war as an opportunity to better the country and for socialism, and eventually he declared support for the war. Mussolini began to criticize his own party and even socialism itself. Needless to say, they did not take very kindly to this, and proceeded to remove him from the party.

He then joined the army, and was injured quite badly by a grenade. He was promoted to corporal because of ‘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’ to quote the Inspector General.

Returning to Italy after the war, he promptly began creating a fascist movement in Milan. In 1919 he had achieved 2% of the vote in Milan, and had around 50 followers, although these men all had very different believes – the only factor which they held in common was that they were all radical. By the end of the year he had about 4,000 supports.

Evidently he was nowhere near a big enough political player to become Prime Minister at this point, so the question is, how did he transform his disparate group of supports into a party which was able to dominate Italian politics for the next two and a half decades?

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