Benito Mussolini (Corsi)
Back in 1892 a group of enthusiastic radicals met at Genoa and ushered the Italian Socialist party into existence. In the same year, and practically at the same time, the Silesian Convent at Paenza opened its huge iron door to admit a wild-eyed lad into the service of the Church. "He seems quite vivacious," remarked the rector to the hopeful mother of the lad, "but I reckon he'll do."
A number of years later a mass of workingmen were conducting a strike in an industrial section of Romagna. The strikers were alone an their fight, abandoned by their leaders, disowned by a hostile Camera del Lavoro. There had been plenty of mass-meetings, plenty of agitation. Demands were made and rejected. Hopes of victory were fast vanishing. At the eleventh hour out of the mob comes a youth with fire in his eyes and hatred in his heart. He must speak. "Comrades," he shouts, "you have had enough words, enough speeches, enough demonstrations, enough nonsense! You have the strength of numbers and the force of arms! You have no head! Here, take mine! This is the hour of revolution—revolution at once!" The discouraged mob stood aghast in the presence of this mere youth who dared to speak of revolution. But his words had penetrated. The mob reacted in all its fury. The passion of revolution took hold of the abandoned strikers. "To the railway! To the railway! Revolution!" shouted the frenzied men and women. But they had hardly advanced when a troop of cavalry compelled them to disperse. They fled to their homes. The revolution was blocked. The youthful agitator, beaten by superior force, downed in his plan of battle, was led away by a kindly band, disillusioned but not discouraged. He would try again. He was born for the revolution.
The wild-eyed lad at the Silesian convent and the youthful revolutionist urging the mob to action were one and the same. To-day, after thirty-odd years of agitation and leadership, Benito Mussolini is at the head of the Italian Government, realizing the aspirations of his youth.
Millions of newspaper readers the world over are asking, Who is this Mussolini? What kind of a man is he?
Not excepting the romantic d'Annunzio, this enfant terrible is the most picturesque figure in all Italy. If I could find his prototype in America, I would engage in comparisons. But, fortunately, or unfortunately If you will, America breeds no Mussolinis. Men of his type are to be found in Latin countries, where temperament and impulse abound. As a man he is unique, sui generis. As a leader he is not to be compared. At this time of writing he has his country in the palm of his hand, to crush it if he pleases, to save it if he so wills. He is the organizer and the builder of the Fasci. He is also their master mind.
He comes from the soil, and he hates democracy. He speaks with provincial pride of the little Roman town of Varano de Costa, where, forty years ago, he first saw the light of day. His father, an iron worker, was an ardent internationalist who suffered imprisonment for his loyalty to Marx. His mother, not unlike many Italian mothers of her day, hoped to have her Benito a priest of the Church. But, as destiny would have it, Benito was a rebel from the day of his birth, a rebel against the clergy, against society, against law and order. The Silesian fathers got rid of the vivacious lad with a sigh of relief, and he later took to teaching. He did not teach for long. The atmosphere of the schoolroom, like that of the chapel, bored him. He craved for action, for adventure, for life. He abandoned the schoolroom and set out for Switzerland. The news of his father's arrest on the day of his departure failed to hold him back. He is not a man who will hold back. He went right ahead to Yverdon, arriving there with two lire in his pockets. After roaming for days from job to job, he was finally arrested and imprisoned on a charge of vagrancy. He returned to Italy, determined to "upset the world and everybody in it." He did.
Mussolini was born for the pen, and he followed his inclination. As a boy he had written many articles and much bad poetry. In Switzerland he bad worked as a mason. He would be a Journalist. In Trento he joined the martyr Cesare Battista and wrote for "Il Popolo." He gave himself to the cause of Italian irredentism. employing his pen, which was also his sword, with fierce hatred against Austria and the Austrians. He left Battista and founded "La Lotta di Classe" in Forli. His articles and editorials were so bitter, so venomous, so belligerent, that all Italy came to know Mussolini, the merciless revolutionist. He demanded the leadership of the Socialist party, as he has demanded the Government, and the party surrendered. He assumed the editorship of the "Avanti," the official organ of the Socialist movement, and, fearing "neither Rome nor hell," set out to "put blood, nerves, and iron in a huge empty body." Under his leadership the Socialist party assumed a belligerent attitude in Italian politics. Mussolini was the bitterest agitator and the most aggressive propagandist the Italian Socialists had ever seen. He was not for the class struggle. He was for class war.
Then the World War came. A deep love of country, slumbering for years in the heart of the revolutionary, came to life with the first booming of the guns. Mussolini could not resist its magnetism. He was a born fighter, a man for the trenches, a dynamic human force. The policy of neutrality decided upon by his party was not for him. He would not be a pacifist. He could not be. He cried out for war, and he ceased to be a Socialist. "Traitor!" shouted his comrades. "Scoundrels, cowards!" thundered Mussolini.
On November 15, 1914, the first issue of "Il Popolo d'Italia," the bitterest anti-Socialist organ in Italy, appeared on the news-stands of Milan. Through its columns Mussolini cried out for war—for war against Austria and Germany, for war against the Socialist and Communist parties, against all the enemies of Italy. He fought for and in the war. All Italy listened to the emotional, dramatic, inspiring war speeches of Mussolini, the redeemed. Four years later he began the organization of the Fasci. The first to respond to his call were the Arditi.
What has happened since then is practically a matter of common knowledge. With his million Fascisti, who compose the most remarkable movement of youth in the history of any nation, he ha brought the Socialist and Communist parties to their knees. He has assumed absolute control of the Italian Government. It may truly be said that in the hands of this man lies the fate of Italy.
Mussolini is an eccentric man of remarkable force and initiative. Though he betrays a childish sentimentalism in his acceptance of political ideas, he is inclined to be egotistical, cruel, and unscrupulous. He is not a cultured man. He abhors the academic mind and hates the doctrinaire. His articles are superficial, his speeches abound in adjectives. But he is as aggressive with his pen as with his tongue. The editorials in "Il Popolo d'Italia" are venomous, menacing, and always polemical. One of the editors of the Fascista organ gives this picture of Mussolini at work in his office:
In the editorial offices there is complete silence. Mussolini is at work. Facing him, on the wall, hangs the black flag of the Arditi, with its prominent skull and dagger; on the table, between the barricade of books and the mass of manuscripts, rests his revolver; a bit further, on a volume of Carducci, a hunting knife, with its blade of steel, glitters in the sunlight; close to his inkwell is another revolver, a smaller one of feminine elegance. On the book-case—rather, on a mass of manuscripts never to be published—are boxes of bullets; near by rests his Fascista cane. In this formidable armory, standing out in perfect contrast to the black flag, Mussolini loads, murmurs, shrieks, threatens, and explodes. He hammers out his thoughts. His pen cuts deep into the paper. He works like a workman. He glories in his work.
"Clemenceau," says Nitti, "has been throughout his whole life a formidable man of destruction." Mussolini differs from Clemenceau only in that be can also build. He Is a doer of things. He believes in accomplishment, in achievement, and has no patience with men who will not act. In his large, protruding eyes there is bitter determination and much iron. He built up the Socialist party and then abandoned it. He followed with the building of the Fasci. He will now build an iron government.
Mussolini, unlike many of the party leaders in Italy, cannot be credited with firm political convictions. He is continuously in a state of political change. Even to-day the public opinion of the country is hopelessly divided on what Mussolini actually believes and desires. He has been a Socialist and a Socialist leader for many years. But was he truly a Socialist? Did he fully grasp the Marxian theories of government? It is difficult to answer the question. I am inclined to believe that he was lured by the romanticism of the Socialist movement. He loved to fight, and the Socialist party, the class struggle, offered him the opportunity to fight. He has never believed in reform through the ballot. He believed and believes in the right of might. As a youth he believed in industrial and political revolution. As a leader of the Socialists he believed in settimana rossa and la guerra di classe. In the war he was a soldier of the trenches. In peace he guided his Fascisti through civil war.
To-day, with the reins of government in his hands, this man, ferocious as a tyrant and human as a child, promises to restore law and order. "Democracy," he has said, "has failed in Italy. This is the day of the dictatorship."
Will he restore the Government to all the people of Italy or will he continue to dominate single-handedly, as he has dominated from that day in Romagna when he urged the striking workmen to revolution? The nation awaits breathlessly the next move of Benito Mussolini.