Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present

By Spencer M. Di Scala | Go to book overview

15
The Rise of Fascism

In describing the events of 1921-22 in Italy, The Daily Mail’s special correspondent and Fascist apologist Sir Percival Phillips wrote: "The Fascisti went about their grim work with a scornful calm. . . . They meted out punishment with the inexorable demeanour of an executioner."

During 1919 and 1920 the left’s influence in Italy contrasted starkly with the conservative wave in Britain and France. Alarmed by what seemed the likelihood of domination by the left, the Italian middle classes and political right struck back with a ferocity unknown in western Europe up to that time.


Early Fascism

Who were the Fascists? Fascism had its start with leftist Socialist leader Benito Mussolini. The son of a poor schoolteacher and a Socialist blacksmith, Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883, in the village of Predappio in the Romagna region. He exhibited violent tendencies from his youth, and, in an attempt to calm down her unruly son, his mother had sent him to a Catholic boarding school. The harsh discipline there made things worse and he got into trouble for fighting and stabbing a fellow student. Mussolini had already declared himself a Socialist while in school. Thanks to his Socialist contacts, he was able to find a position teaching elementary school after graduation but could not hold onto his job because of a clamorous love affair. In 1902 he expatriated to Switzerland. He tried working at construction, but the work was too hard. He ran out of money and linked up with Italian Socialists and began writing for Socialist newspapers, including the revolutionary syndicalist organ Avanguardia Socialista. He got into trouble with the Swiss authorities because he advocated strikes and violence. In 1903 he was expelled, but the Italian police had no reason to hold him and he slipped back into Switzerland. There he continued his political activities, fell in love, claimed to engage in intellectual pursuits, and, he said, attended the lectures of Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto. Mussolini was due to report for

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