Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Benito Mussolini - The Early Years
Benito Mussolini. An often forgotten man, despite inventing the whole 20th century dictatorship fad and rocking Italy with his insane, often made up, crazy nationalist policies. Sadly, he will always be remembered as the "Pinky" to Hitler's "Brain".
Mussolini was a modest working class lad, with an activist father (who was also a blacksmith, the manliest profession) and a catholic mother. He was sent to a Catholic school run by monks, where he acted out a lot... his trangressions included throwing rocks at people leaving the church after mass, stabbing a fellow student and throwing an inkpot at a teacher. As well as the usual fighting and rough housing, basically he would fit into the modern British school system perfectly.
FUN FASCISM FACT - Mussolini's economic policy was "corporatism" his "third way". A bold new idea where the corporations, workers and government sit around a table and settle everything. Interesting, mostly in the sense that it was madness, it was never really used properly. Businesses with any sway did what they wanted, the rest did what the Fascists wanted. But people couldnt complain, because they got to go to the meetings.
He did change schools to a non-catholic one and did better, qualifying as a school master. I think that just means a teacher, only you get to cane people and pretend you are a Dr Who villain.
FUN FASCISM FACT - One of Mussolini's ten principals of Fascism included "Mussolini is always right", Italians didnt feel the need to hide behind complex party rhetoric like the Germans, just do what I say bitch.
He went to Switzerland for a while, was a general vagrant for a while (you notice evil dictators are always vagrants for a while first, possible solution to future holocausts... kill all vagrants) and eventually get deported back to Italy and forced into military service.
He followed his fathers footsteps into political extremism and even wrote a novel. Unlike Hitler's crazy ranting about boxing and living space, this isnt well read, mostly because it was totally dull. Just politics and general musing about Italy, like a real book on politics, only worse. He was the editor of a socialist newspaper (like an Italian socialist worker or the Guardian) so was being a general lefty. Which was the thing back then. Communism actually seemed a valid move back then, not just something students in berets like to moan on about despite being rich little middle class brats. And seriously, berets? Grow up, Chris from my college politics class.
Fun Fascism Fact - Mussolini was the only person to sucessfully crush the Mafia in Sicily or at least mildly disrupt it. Admittedly, his method was essentially arrest everyone who was male and able to walk on the Island.
Then WW1 came. Mussolini was called up, had an unblemished but not terribly exciting tour. He was possibly kept from advancing much due to his pinko leanings. He was sick a bunch and eventually caught 40 shards from a mortar bomb. Which sounds pretty terrible, but back in WW1 all the other guys in the hospital would have been "in the hospital, for 40 shards? I got shot by an entire German batallion and you dont hear me complaining and lying around" because, well, it was pretty horrible.
When he came back from the war, he had an exciting new concept. Socialism had failed, he thought, what we need is a new philisophy. One that shows the strength of socialism and its direct rule, but with a new approach to economics and property.
He came up with something he called Fascismo.
FUN FASCISM FACT - One of the minor parties wrapped up into the Fascists wake was the futurists. Dont remember them? They were the guys who wanted to build aluminium trains and ban pasta. Not every revolutionary party is a winner.
It was the polar opposite to socialism in many ways, it was formed from war vets and the idea of nationalism. It appealed to the establishment, it wasnt a "subersive pinko" party planning the downfall of the state and secret communist take over from Russia, it was all about Italy. They said so, a lot.
But it still held socialist economic ideas, minimum wage, supporting the unions. And more crazy socialist ideas, like votes for women.
FUN FASCISM FACT - Mussolini really did leave the light on in his office to give the impression he was "at work all night" for the good of Italy. Im not sure who this reflects the most poorly on, him or the people of Italy.
They made constant references to Rome and former Italian glory. It was a party of revolution to the working classes and tradition to the bourgeois, at a rought time it promised people a new economic model (it wasnt clear WHAT that was exactly, but they had a lot of promises.) They sold people on the idea of fascism, that it was bold, new... exciting.
Mussolini established his "blackshirt" army, war vets and eager youths, who went out on to the streets and had them "breaking up" and generally breaking communists, anarchists and the like. They were providing law and order, some thought, and popularity of the party grew. Hitler would garner his early support in the exact same way, the rough hand keeping the cities safe.
In 1921 the party had grew to the extent in could establish itself as a "National Fascist Party" in Rome and Mussolini himself was elected to the chamber of deputies.
FUN FASCISM FACT - Under Fascism Italy won 2 world cups and had a heavyweight boxing world champion... back when the title meant something. Im not saying Fascism gives you sporting success, but come on, I know who I am voting for next election if we dont at least make it to a semi final next run out.
Several failed attempts to form government, from the various coalitions of left wing parties and right wing parties, happened. Eventually the Church's unofficial party decided to step down entirely. This left a big gap in the right wing side, the government was essentially going to be left wing... the King stepped in and decided to offer power to the fascists. Better the slightly weird right wingers than those damn dirty socialists.
Good call, guys.
Fascism was afoot!
FINAL FUN FASCISM FACT - You could make a reasonable argument that by abandoning their part in the political process, the Catholic Church led directly to the rise of Fascism, and therefore Hitler's similar acheivement. So really, when you get down to it, the holocaust. Its best not to argue this in Church though, because everyone is all "quiten down, we are trying to listen to the sermon" and you get thrown out before the free wine.