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mussolini fascist italy

Written by Mr. Muhammad Sharif Jakhrani 9:09 pm Articles, International Relations, Published Content

Metamorphosis of Ideals: Mussolini’s Evolution from Socialism to Fascism

Muhammad Sharif Jakhrani traces the ideological metamorphosis of Benito Mussolini, navigating the shift from radical socialism to the intense currents of ultra-nationalistic fascism. Examining crucial moments such as Italy’s post-World War I disillusionment, the narrative emphasizes the nuanced and dynamic nature of political ideologies. Benito Mussolini’s journey serves as a compelling case study, illustrating the intricate interplay of personal aspirations, societal changes, and political climates. The article invites the reader to explore how one man’s transformation significantly impacted the ever-changing tapestry of political thought. It will particularly be helpful for the aspirants of competitive exams who are taking European history and Political Science as optional subjects.
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About the Author(s)
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Mr. Muhammad Sharif Jakhrani is a graduate of Political Science from GC University Lahore. His areas of interest include ethnic conflict and the politics of religion in Pakistan.

Evolving Political Ideologies

The fluidity of political ideologies is often not adequately discussed in mainstream socio-political discourses. Ideologies are deemed as something absolute and those who adhere to them are seen as ardent proponents who unwaveringly follow, regardless of changing socio-political dynamics. This has been proven wrong in multiple instances throughout history.

An example worth discussing is that of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini who gained a reputation as a socialist in his early life only to take an opposite shift and move to the other end of the political spectrum by fathering an ultra-nationalist and anti-socialist ideology eventually leading to the foundation of the much dreaded fascist Italy.

Mussolini was born to a father who was a radical socialist and a prominent member of the revolutionary and anarchist circles of his time. His dedication to the revolutionary cause can be gauged from the fact that he named his son Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, after the prominent revolutionaries and anarchists of his time i.e. Benito Juarez, Amilcare Ciprani, and Andrea Costa.

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This would undoubtedly go on to shape Mussolini’s early ideological thinking to the extent that he is said to have worn a locket with a picture of Karl Marx at all times when he was only ten years old. After he graduated from college in 1901, Mussolini went to Switzerland, an attractive employment destination for most of the Italians of his time, as an émigré looking for employment. There he would work as a bricklayer and often switch between different daily wage jobs by the virtue of which he would soon find himself in the company of other socialists and anarchists.

Writings on Socialism

It was not long before Mussolini began writing for a local socialist newspaper. In his articles, he aired extreme socialist views and expressed his resentment against the decadent political elite of Italy and its political system. This earned him the title of an “Authoritarian Communist” in the socialist circles. After a while, he moved to Trento, an Italian-speaking city under Austro-Hungarian control, and took up a job as a secretary for the local Labour Party. At the same time, he worked as an editor of L’Avvenire del Lavoratore (The Future of the Worker), the newspaper of the local socialist party.

Having worked in these positions for over a year, he moved back to his hometown where he started working as the editor of a weekly periodical called Lotta di Class (The Class Struggle). Soon, he built himself a reputation for social disruption which, in late 1911, landed him in jail for campaigning against Italy’s military invasion of Libya. After completing his six months of jail term, Mussolini was finally freed in early 1912. By this point, he had become a renowned socialist, known across Italy for his activism.

His reputation was such that his release from prison was announced by Avanti!, the official newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party, as “Comrade Mussolini has left the Prison this morning more socialist than ever”. He went on to join the newspaper as an editor and became an important member of the Italian Socialist Party, thereby, becoming a part of the socialist circles at the national level.

He also contested the parliamentary elections of 1913 from this platform, but, to his misfortune, he lost. This was the peak of Mussolini’s political career as a crusader for the socialist cause. At the same time, this was also the point where his metamorphoses into an ultra-nationalist fanatic would begin.

World War I

The outbreak of the WWI was a watershed moment for the whole of Europe, more so for Mussolini and other socialists. However, Mussolini and the Italian Socialist Party disagreed on a very important point: should Italy join the war? The Italian Socialist Party, in the start, advocated for Italian neutrality, a stance that Mussolini initially adhered to but later abandoned.

Mussolini saw this crisis as an opportunity to push for the overhaul and reorganization of Italian politics and society in line with socialist principles. He believed that the war would provide the material conditions for a Marxist revolution. Furthermore, the war was also deemed as a chance for Italy to reclaim its territories under the control of foreign powers like Austro-Hungary. Therefore, he started writing pro-intervention articles in Avanti!, advising the party to advocate for Italian participation in the war. This did not sit well with the party which led to Mussolini’s resignation from Avanti!.

Benito Mussolini continued his pro-intervention campaign with Il Popolo d’Italia (The People of Italy), a pro-war newspaper founded by Mussolini himself. Consequently, the chasm increased and Mussolini was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party. This marked the formal end of his career as a socialist. He now began pursuing an ideology of his own.

The First World War acted as a catalyst for Mussolini’s ideological transformation. Having severed all the links with the mainstream socialist movement, he now trod a path and exhibited tendencies diametrically opposite to his previously dearly held socialist beliefs. Immediately after being expelled from the Socialist Party, he founded Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (Leagues of Revolutionary Action) in late 1914, a pro-intervention group aiming to promote Italian entry into the war.

A Fascist Italy

This was a precursor to a further right-wing Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian fighting bands) which was formed in 1919 to suppress Italian socialists whom Mussolini called “Slackers and defeatists”. In 1921, this organization was reorganized into the National Fascist Party in Italy which was led by Mussolini. At the same time, having miserably performed in the elections of 1919, the organization formed a paramilitary organization called the Squadristi, most famously known as the Blackshirts. They would carry out systematic and coordinated acts of extreme physical violence against Mussolini’s political opponents, mostly those affiliated with the Italian Socialist Party.

The once-famous ‘Authoritarian communist,’ who had built an entire political career as a radical socialist—working as an editor for multiple socialist newspapers and serving prison sentences for the socialist cause, even culminating in Avanti! labeling him “more socialist than ever”—had completely forsaken his father’s legacy and a lifetime of socialist activism. Now working full-time to crush his old comrades, many of whom would be beaten to death by his Blackshirts, he aimed to replace socialism with fascism in Italy.

“Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, and a blackmail,” Mussolini went on to remark about socialism. The transformation was now complete. Finally in power after his famous March on Rome, Mussolini proclaimed a fascist dictatorship and directed the whole state machinery against socialists in Italy. At that time, he could not have imagined that his eventual death would come at the hands of the very communist partisans he had tried so hard to subdue.

Instances such as Benito Mussolini’s transformation to fascism provide compelling illustrations of the fluidity inherent in political ideologies, where individuals skillfully adapt to the shifting dynamics amidst socio-political upheavals. Frequently, this metamorphosis manifests as individuals traverse the political spectrum, sometimes to the very extremes, mirroring the transformative journey exemplified by Mussolini himself.


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