By Maggie Scales
Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883, in the Romagna region of central Italy, to his father, Alessandro, and his mother, Rosa Maria (Clark). He also had two younger siblings: Arnaldo and Edvige (Clark). Mussolini’s father was a short-tempered, unpredictable man who was abusive toward Mussolini, though Mussolini admired him very much. Conversely, Rosa Maria was a devout Catholic woman and a respectable elementary school teacher (Clark). As a dual-income family, the Mussolinis were relatively wealthy and Mussolini and his siblings went to school for 18 years, longer than other Italian children at the time (Clark). When he was nine, Mussolini was sent to boarding school which was a negative experience — children disliked him because he was poorer than them and his teachers disliked him because of his father’s politics (Clark). Mussolini enjoyed his next school where students were groomed to become primary school teachers (Clark). Socially, this school was more enjoyable for Mussolini, but he still caused trouble by leading strikes and pulling a knife out on a classmate (Clark).
After school, Mussolini traveled to countries neighboring Italy to avoid being drafted into the army and eventually fell into the journalism industry (Clark). He started his journalism career, working for Lausanne’s socialist newspaper, L’Avvenire del Lavoratore, writing “ﬁery speeches to the thousands of Italian immigrant workers, particularly during strikes or protest demonstrations…specializing in anticlerical themes” (Clark). These “fiery speeches” included Mussolini advocating for a “violent general strike,” (“Benito Mussolini’s Mugshot, 1903 – Rare Historical Photos”) leading him to get arrested and deported back to Italy. Upon returning to Italy in 1905, Mussolini joined the 10th Regiment of Bersaglieri, stationed in Verona. Shortly after in 1908, Mussolini began working for the Italian socialist journal, La Lima, and quickly became its editor (Clark).
In February 1909, Mussolini “worked with the leader of the Trent Socialists, Cesare Battisti,” who made Mussolini the deputy editor of his newspaper, Il Popolo. Mussolini’s anticlerical views were revolutionary to the Trent Socialists and his opinionated writing made him a local celebrity (Clark). In September 1909, Mussolini settled in Forlì where he ran the local branch of the socialist party and edited the journal, La Lotta di Classe, where he injected his voice as a political agitator (Clark). Based on Mussolini’s journalism career thus far, it is clear that he prefers opinion journalism and often took positions where he would write political articles from a biased and dogmatic angle. That said, Mussolini might have viewed the news industry as an operation that the public is drawn to for the purpose of being persuaded by writers’ opinions.
By November 1912, Mussolini became the editor of the socialist party’s main propaganda outlet, Avanti! (Clark). This position groomed him to become a master of rhetorical technique and propaganda machine. In Avanti!, Mussolini would publish anti-war socialist propaganda, stating, “‘Down with the war!’, ‘Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat! Long live socialism!,’ urging the Italian government to declare neutrality amid the looming war (O’Brian).
On August 3, 1914, Italy declared neutrality and Mussolini’s political views began to shift. In September 1914, Mussolini published his own journal, Utopia, where he continued to express his beliefs on war, though they began to become less anti-war and more war-neutral (O’Brian). Because Mussolini shifted from the socialist anti-war view, he stepped down from his position as editor of Avanti! but continued publishing pro-war opinions in his journal, Il Popolo ‘Italia, which ultimately got him expelled from the Italian socialist party (O’Brian). This is where Mussolini’s fascist party was born.
In a 1932 encyclopedia entry written by Mussolini entitled, “What is fascism?”, he said: Fascism “believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace” and “repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism” (Halsall), meaning that fascists conceive of life as a duty and struggle rather than a fight for coexistence. In contradiction to Mussolini’s life’s work, he states that fascism is “the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism” (Halsall). Mussolini said that fascism combats the democratic regime and rather affirms the inequality of mankind, and states that fascism has no economic motive, unlike many other parties (Halsall). Also unlike democracy, Mussolini states that fascism consumes the state, and only “leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual,” depriving citizens of “useless freedom” (Halsall). Of most importance, Mussonlini states that “for fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality” (Halsall).
Mussolini’s development within the journalism industry and shift in political views because of the war contributed to his fascist beliefs. As Mussolini describes, fascism seeks to organize a nation as one state where freedom is useless (Halsall). However, the success of journalism industries is dependent on the freedom of press and freedom of speech. So what could have pushed Mussolini, a once decorated journalist and socialist leader, to the other side of the political spectrum?
First, historians believe that Mussolini’s childhood, fraught with family trauma and bullying at school, is the reason why he viewed the world so negatively. For example, after attending boarding school where his teachers and classmates treated him poorly, Martin Clark stated that the young Mussolini “hated the middle classes, he hated the Church, he hated authority and he hated humiliation” (Clark). Martin emphasizes the importance of his growing hatred toward the Church specifically, stating that “Mussolini rejected God but then had to ﬁnd another ideal: ﬁrst socialism, then the nation. In both cases he tried to impose it on others, and force people to worship it” (Clark). Even from a young age, Mussolini was firm in his beliefs and worked to impose them on his peers, much like he ultimately aimed to do when creating the fascist party. This growing hatred for an uncaring world and unwavering resistance against structure and guidance later informed his politics in his early professional career.
As a journalist, it is one’s job to share pertinent information with the public, but today, journalists aim for objectivity in their work and actively seek to not inject their biases like Mussolini did. Because of this disconnect, it appears that Mussolini enjoyed journalism because of the platform it gave him to spread his harsh political views with Italians. Many of his jobs in the industry involved him writing “fiery speeches” (Clark) which often made him a “personality” (Clark) in various communities. He did not enjoy journalism for its ethical responsibility, but he enjoyed it for the clout and outlet to “impose” (Clark) his biases on others. In Mussolini’s mind, journalists were a kind of untouchable celebrity who had the power to become the artist at the head of a political organization, leading a population through the uncaring world he resented.
Nearing the end of World War I, Mussolini delivered a speech on May 19, 1918, in Bologna, where he defined the ‘journalist’, like himself, to be the most far-sighted individual, capable of overtaking a nation. In the beginning of Martin’s text, he describes how the fellow founders of fascism settled on its principals. Martin notes that writer and poet, Filippo Marinetti, argued the relevance of futurism, a political ideology where the mission was to reconcile aesthetic individualism with the collective by placing the artist, for the artist is most capable of strategically leading a population, at the head of a new social and political formation (O’Brien). However, in his 1918 speech, Mussolini abandoned Marinetti’s idea and narcissistically placed the journalist above the artist. Mussolini stated:
“The journalists have on many occasions preceded the government. I speak of the great journalists who had the outer ear always open in the direction of the vibrations emanating from the outer world. The journalist has at times foreseen what those in charge have unfortunately seen too late” (Mussolini)
His claim further exemplifies the way in which Mussolini viewed journalism — an occupation where opinionated and powerful people like himself can have a platform to spread their biases and obtain insider knowledge of government operations. And with their strategically deceitful skills, having “the outer ear always open,” journalists are most capable of ‘preceding the government’ (O’Brien).
Mussolini named himself the most capable political leader in this speech. Throughout the war, Mussolini documented his experiences and subsequently deemed himself an “artist” and a “a charismatic hero at the center of a warrior community” (O’Brien). Mussolini mobilized this confidence in his WWI journalism, and reinvested it into his efforts as the leader of a future society whose common denominator would be war (O’Brien).
Once Mussolini was named the leader of Italy in 1922, he defined the priority of the nation’s press office as the rational restructuring of the pro-Fascist and national press (Bonsaver). Mussolini enforced censorship of the press by ordering police officers to act against publications that they perceived were a threat to the state (Bonsaver). He stated that newspapers must be an instrument of propaganda supporting Italian-ness and the regime, and he would ensure this was the case by enforcing “valine,” or directives to tall newspaper editors (Bonsaver). By 1935, Italy’s press office of the Ministry of the Interior was renamed the ‘Ministry for the Press and Propaganda’ (Bonsaver).
Mussolini’s fraught childhood, early professional career, and shifted political views due to WWI informed his perception of the journalism industry’s purpose. Mussolini was brought up in a household riddled with tension, mostly from his drunk and unpredictable father. After school, Mussolini left Italy to avoid the draft and fell into journalism, specifically opinion journalism where he would voice his socialist opinions in Italian newspapers. As Italy entered WWI, Mussolini’s socialist views shifted and he became increasingly anti-war. Because journalists often do have insight into government matters and Mussolini believed that the news industry was a function to spread propaganda, he concluded that journalists are the ultimate political leaders and wartime moguls. By working in the news industry, Mussolini learned rhetorical techniques that molded him into a strong propaganda machine as the creator of the fascist party.
Bonsaver, Guido. “Towards a New System.” Censorship and Literature in Fascist Italy, University of Toronto Press, 2007, pp. 13–26. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442684157.7. Accessed 25 Apr. 2023.
Clark, Martin. Mussolini. Routledge, 2014, https://books.google.com/books/about/Mussolini.html?id=tA8iAQAAIAAJ.
“Benito Mussolini’s Mugshot, 1903 – Rare Historical Photos.” Https://Rarehistoricalphotos.Com/, 6 Jan. 2014, https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/mugshot-benito-mussolini-1903/.
Halsall, Paul. “Internet History Sourcebooks: Modern History.” Modern History Sourcebook: Benito Mussolini: What Is Fascism, 1932, 26 Jan. 1996, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/mussolini-fascism.asp.
Mussolini Benito et al. Opera Omnia Di Benito Mussolini. La Fenice 1951.
O’Brien, Paul. Mussolini in the First World War: The Journalist, the Soldier, the Fascist. Berg, 2005, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/northeastern-ebooks/reader.action?docID=243514&ppg=176.