Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was, for over two decades, one of the most formidable leaders in Europe. He has often been overlooked in history but he was idealised by many fascists, including Hitler himself. Mussolini’s rise to power can be attributed to two main features, Mussolini’s talent in journalism and his recognition of the importance of the media and sheer force of personality.
Mussolini was born in Northern Italy in a town called, Dovia di Predappio. His family was better off than most as his mother, Rosa, was a schoolteacher in the town. His father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith but his real passion lay in socialist politics, he even named his son after Benito Juarez, a Mexican revolutionary. It was clear from an early age that Mussolini was an incredibly bright, but violent child. At the age of ten he led his first revolution against the food in his Catholic boarding school, and at the age of eleven he was expelled for stabbing a fellow student. This kind of violence seemed to anticipate the way in which Mussolini would rise to power and rule.
In 1902, after leaving school, Mussolini escaped to Switzerland in order to avoid military service; this was a crime that later in his life he would have people shot for. Mussolini continued his passion in socialist policies and was arrested several times by the Swiss police for ‘political agitation’. At this stage of his life Mussolini was hardly recognisable in his political values. He preached against the church, the king and the exploitation of the people. However characteristics were clearly developing that would enable him to seize power for himself in 1922. He was a vocal and radical member of the unions; many feared and admired him and his ideas. Mussolini often openly spoke out about the need for a revolution that shocked many of the more moderate socialists.
The Socialist party in Italy saw Mussolini as an influential figure and as a result he was rewarded with the position of editor of the socialist newspaper Avanti! Mussolini has been seen as one of the first political leaders to see the true value of media in controlling the population. Under his leadership the amount of people that read Avanti rose from 20,000 to 100,000.
Mussolini was finally expelled from the Italian Socialist Party in 1914 after coming in to dispute with leaders of the party over their view that Italy should remain neutral. He then joined the army in 1915 and was injured in 1917. This was an extremely important stage in Mussolini’s life. He later described it as ‘the most beautiful moment of my life.’ It was incorporated heavily into the myth of Mussolini that he used in his image as a modern Julius Caesar.
After the war he returned to journalism and began to champion the many grievances of soldiers. He described his writing as ‘the finger on the pulse of the masses.’ In 1919 Italy was on the brink of civil war with unemployment incredibly high, as a result there was a large communist movement amongst the people. There was fear in the middle class that there would be a revolution similar to that seen in Russia. Mussolini saw that this was his chance, and promised that he would destroy the communists and restore law and order to Italy.
This promise saw the rise of the Fascist Party. Immediately Mussolini built his army, named ‘the black shirts’, which was mainly made up of soldiers that felt disillusioned with life after the war. He used violence to crush the communists and began to plan a campaign to overthrow the government. It has been a common misconception that Mussolini took power with a violent take over that he named the march on Rome. In fact Mussolini was handed power before the march began, as many saw his taking of power as inevitable. Mussolini used the media to great effect to send the message of his ‘glorious overthrow’ of the government.
Mussolini is clearly an infamous character in history for many reasons, but one cannot fail to admire certain characteristics. His force of personality held his regime together for many reasons; he created legends and myths around himself that held the population in awe of him. Also his manipulation of media would be copied by many regimes later such as in Nazi Germany, Russia and China. Although he committed many atrocities, his rise to power is certainly impressive.