As a young man I was very interested on WW2, its causes, development, and aftermath. My interest, however, was mostly limited to Europe. In that war theatre Adolf Hitler was the central character and Nazi Germany the main setting.
While I suspect that is a common blunder, that is no excuse: my focus was superficial and misleading. (Over the last twenty years several attempts have been made to correct the historical record: 1998, 2014)
|Sidney Strube, NYTimes (source)|
Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), for one, undeniably played a minor role, compared to Hitler. The historical Mussolini, however, was not just the buffoonish operetta character of popular imagination, as ridiculous as he was harmless and ineffectual: he coined the word fascism and once was Hitler's role model.
A man of some intelligence but irregular education, Mussolini gained familiarity with the works of philosophers and theorists as diverse as Kant, Spinoza, Kropotkin, Nietzsche, Hegel, Kautsky, and Sorel. It's anyone's guess what Mussolini learned from them, what is known is that he inherited his father's Marxist socialism.
Avoiding the current fashion for amateurish psychiatric diagnostics, it seems safe to say, however, that in our times kids presenting the violent behaviour young Mussolini displayed often end up in the juvenile criminal justice system. He somehow avoided that fate, keeping those tendencies into adulthood.
By 1914-15 that, together with the rise in popularity of revisionist "socialism", outweighed whatever commitment to Marxist socialism Mussolini ever had.
WW1 started on July 8, 1914. Although Italy was formally allied to Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) and neutrality was the official stance of Italian Marxists, indeed, of the whole opposition to conservative PM Antonio Salandra, Italians, however, caught the nationalist virus: immediate war against Austria-Hungary became popular, lest the motherland miss the party. Mussolini, who had already gradually moved to revisionism/reformism, called for war on the Allies' side, too. This led to his expulsion from the Socialist Party, but it also gained him the financial backing of the French social democratic (revionist/reformist) government of René Viviani (Republican-Socialist Party) and a £100 weekly allowance from the British MI5 (equivalent to £6,000 in 2009), and -- in the long-run much more importantly -- the monetary good will of the hawkish Italian conservative/liberal capitalists.
Political/ideological prostitution paid him handsomely. Evidently, Marxism could neither compete with that nor afford him an outlet for his violence. He never forgave it that.
Soon enough Salandra would give nationalists what they wanted. On May 23, 1915 Italy declared war on the Central Powers. Mussolini quickly volunteered. Italy had been secretly negotiating with Britain, France, and Russia, behind German/Austrian backs: Italy would join the Allies, in exchange for territories in the Adriatic. Salandra called that "sacro egoismo" (sacred egoism).
Back home from the front and as founder of the National Fascist Party and head of a terrorist campaign against the whole left (orthodox and revisionists alike), with the support of capitalists and liberal governments for their strike-breaking policy, and later as Duce, Mussolini eventually had to provide a philosophical foundation for his politics. The result was "The Doctrine of Fascism". Published in 1932 as an entry in the authoritative Enciclopedia Italiana (edited by Giovanni Gentile!) Mussolini was credited as its author.
That's an interesting essay. Let's make a deal: read it and we'll discuss it in future posts, one for each of the essay's three sections.