How did Benito Mussolini come to fascism? Standard accounts of the dictator have failed to explain satisfactorily the transition from his pre-World War I 'socialism' to his post-war fascism. This controversial new book is the first to examine closely Mussolini's political trajectory during the Great War as evidenced in his journalistic writings, speeches and war diary, as well as some previously unexamined archive material. The author argues that the 1914-18 conflict provided the catalyst for Mussolini to clarify his deep-rooted nationalist tendencies. He demonstrates that Mussolini's interventionism was already anti-socialist and anti-democratic in the early autumn of 1914 and shows how in and through the experience of the conflict the future duce fine-tuned his authoritarian and totalitarian vision of Italy in a state of permanent mobilization for war. Providing a radical new interpretation of one of the most important dictators of the twentieth century, Mussolini in the First World War will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about the roots of fascism in modern Europe.
'An important study of the young Mussolini, this book shows us the future fascist leader in a new light, helping us to understand better why Italy turned to fascism and how Mussolini himself - still a socialist firebrand in 1914 - became the champion of the Italian Right. This study will become essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the development of the fascist movement and its duce.' Paul Corner, Professor of European History, University of Siena 'This book makes a real contribution to our knowledge of the birth of fascism in Italy. Hitherto, historians have ignored Mussolinis experience as combatant in the First World War. Paul OBrien has identified a major gap in the research, and he argues cogently for the crucial role of Mussolinis war experience. This provocative, but carefully argued, book is a welcome application of the new cultural history of the Great War and will be essential reading for those seeking to understand the origins of fascism.' Alan Kramer, co-author of German Atrocities 1914 'O'Brien offers a convincing case that Mussolini moved from socialism to a Jacobean nationalism and generic populism that had as its main targets, not the capitalist bourgeoisie, but the Italian Socialist Party and Giovanni Giolitti. Far from having been an eager and willing soldier, the future Duce showed little desire to enlist... O'Brien's most interesting argument deals with Mussolini's war injuries. He argues that an examination of the medical records does not indicate a serious injury; instead, he was hospitalized from April to August 1917 with a case of neurosyphilis and the records were tampered with to cover this up.' Journal of Modern Italian Studies 'Paul O'Brien's book presents the reader with a series of interesting and thought-provoking accounts and interpretations concerning the figure of Mussolini and, by extension, Fascism as a whole.' Saverio Battente, Modern Italy