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My Autobiography with "The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism"
By Benito Mussolini
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A Sulphurous Land
ALMOST all the books published about me put squarely and logically on the first page that which may be called my birth certificate. It is usually taken from my own notes.
Well, then here it is again. I was born on July 29, 1883, at Varano di Costa. This is an old hamlet. It is on a hill. The houses are of stone, and sunlight and shade give these walls and roofs a variegated color which I well remember. The hamlet, where the air is pure and the view agreeable, overlooks the village of Dovia, and Dovia is in the commune, or county, of Predappio in the northeast of Italy.
It was at two o'clock Sunday afternoon when I came into the world. It was by chance the festival day of the patron saint of the old church and parish of Caminate. On the structure a ruined tower overlooks proudly and solemnly the whole plain of Forli—a plain which slopes gently down from the Apennines, with their snow-clad tops in winter, to the undulating bottoms of Ravaldino, where the mists gather in summer nights.
Let me add to the atmosphere of a country dear to me by bringing again to my memory the old district of Predappio. It was a country well known in the thirteenth century, giving birth to illustrious families during the Renaissance. It is a sulphurous land. From it the ripening grapes make a strong wine of fine perfume. There are many springs of iodine waters. And on that plain and those undulating foothills and mountain spurs, the ruins of mediæval castles and towers thrust up their gray-yellow walls toward the pale blue sky in testimony of the virility of centuries now gone.
Such was the land, dear to me because it was my soil. Race and soil are strong influences upon us all.
As for my race—my origin—many persons have studied and analyzed its hereditary aspects. There is nothing very difficult in tracing my genealogy, because from parish records it is very easy for friendly research to discover that I came from a lineage of honest people. They tilled the soil, and because of its fertility they earned the right to their share of comfort and ease.
Going further back, one finds that the Mussolini family was prominent in the city of Bologna in the thirteenth century. In 1270 Giovanni Mussolini was the leader of this warlike, aggressive commune. His partner in the rule of Bologna in the days of armored knights was Fulcieri Paolucci de Calboli, who belonged to a family from Predappio also, and even to-day that is one of the distinguished families.
The destinies of Bologna and the internal struggles of its parties and factions, following the eternal conflicts and changes in all struggles for power, caused, at last, the exile of the Mussolinis to Argelato. From there they scattered into neighboring provinces. One may be sure that in that era their adventures were varied and sometimes in the flux of fortune brought them to hard times. I have never discovered news of my forbears in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century there was a Mussolini in London. Italians never hesitate to venture abroad with their genius or their labors. The London Mussolini was a composer of music of some note and perhaps it is from him that I inherit the love of the violin, which even to-day in my hands gives comfort to moments of relaxation and creates for me moments of release from the realities of my days.
Later, in the nineteenth century, the family tie became more clearly defined; my own grandfather was a lieutenant of the National Guard.
My father was a blacksmith—a heavy man with strong, large, fleshy hands. Alessandro the neighbors called him. Heart and mind were always filled and pulsing with socialistic theories. His intense sympathies mingled with doctrines and causes. He discussed them in the evening with his friends and his eyes filled with light. The international movement attracted him and he was closely associated with names known among the followers of social causes in Italy—Andrea Costa, Balducci, Amilcare, Cipriani and even the more tender and pastoral spirit of Giovanni Pascoli. So come and go men whose minds and souls are striving for good ends. Each conference seems to them to touch the fate of the world; each talisman seems to promise salvation; each theory pretends to immortality.
The Mussolinis had left some permanent marks. In Bologna there is still a street named for that family and not long ago a tower and a square bore the name. Somewhere in the heraldic records there is the Mussolini coat of arms. It has a rather pleasing and perhaps magnificent design. There are six black figures in a yellow field—symbols of valor, courage, force.
My childhood, now in the mists of distance, still yields those flashes of memory that come back with a familiar scene, an aroma which the nose associates with damp earth after a rain in the springtime, or the sound of footsteps in the corridor. A roll of thunder may bring back the recollection of the stone steps where a little child who seems no longer any part of oneself used to play in the afternoon.
Out of those distant memories I receive no assurance that I had the characteristics which are supposed traditionally to make parents overjoyed at the perfection of their offspring. I was not a good boy, nor did I stir the family pride or the dislike of my own young associates in school by standing at the head of my class.
I was then a restless being; I am still.
Then I could not understand why it is necessary to take time in order to act. Rest for restfulness meant nothing to me then any more than now.
I believe that in those youthful years, just as now, my day began and ended with an act of will—by will put into action.
Looking back, I cannot see my early childhood as being either praiseworthy or as being more than normal in every direction. I remember my father as a dark-haired, good-natured man, not slow to laugh, with strong features and steady eyes. I remember that near the house where I was born, with its stone wall with moss green in the crevices, there was a small brook and farther on a little river. Neither had much water in it, but in autumn and other seasons when there were unexpected heavy rains they swelled in fury and their torrents were joyous challenges to me. I remember them as my first play spots. With my brother, Arnaldo, who is now the publisher of the daily Popolo d'Italia, I used to try my skill as a builder of dams to regulate the current. When birds were in their nesting season I was a frantic hunter for their concealed and varied homes with their eggs or young birds. Vaguely I sensed in all this the rhythm of natural progress—a peep into a world of eternal wonder, of flux and change. I was passionately fond of young life; I wished to protect it then as I do now.
My greatest love was for my mother. She was so quiet, so tender, and yet so strong. Her name was Rosa. My mother not only reared us but she taught primary school. I often thought, even in my earliest appreciation of human beings, of how faithful and patient her work was. To displease her was my one fear. So, to hide from her my pranks, my naughtiness or some result of mischievous frolic, I used to enlist my grandmother and even the neighbors, for they understood my panic lest my mother should be disturbed.
The alphabet was my first practice in worldly affairs and I learned it in a rush of enthusiasm. Without knowing why, I found myself wishing to attend school—the school at Predappio, some two miles away. It was taught by Marani, a friend of my father. I walked to and fro and was not displeased that the boys of Predappio resented at first the coming of a stranger boy from another village. They flung stones at me and I returned their fire. I was all alone and against many. I was often beaten, but I enjoyed it with that universality of enjoyment with which boys the world around make friendship by battle and arrive at affection through missiles. Whatever was my courage, my body bore its imprints. I concealed the bruises from my mother to shelter her from the knowledge of the world in which I had begun to find expression and to which I supposed she was such a stranger. At the evening repast I probably often feared to stretch out my hand for the bread lest I expose a wound upon my young wrist.
After a while this all ended. War was over and the pretense of enmity—a form of play—faded into nothing and I had found fine schoolmates of my own age.
The call of old life foundations is strong. I felt it when only a few years ago a terrific avalanche endangered the lives of the inhabitants of Predappio. I took steps to found a new Predappio—Predappio Nuovo. My nature felt a stirring for my old home. And I remembered that as a child I had sometimes looked at the plain where the River Rabbi is crossed by the old highway to Mendola and imagined there a flourishing town. To-day that town—Predappio Nuovo—is in full process of development; on its masonry gate there is carved the symbol of Fascism and words expressing my clear will.
When I was graduated from the lower school I was sent to a boarding school. This was at Faenza, the town noted for its pottery of the fifteenth century. The school was directed by the Salesiani priests. I was about to enter into a period of routine, of learning the ways of the disciplined human herd. I studied, slept well and grew. I was awake at daylight and went to bed when the evening had settled down and the bats flew.
This was a period of bursting beyond the bounds of my own little town. I had begun to travel. I had begun to add length after length to that tether which binds one to the hearth and the village.
I saw the town of Forli—a considerable place which should have impressed me but failed to do so. But Ravenna! Some of my mother's relatives lived in the plain of Ravenna and on one summer vacation we set out together to visit them. After all, it was not far away, but to my imagination it was a great journey—almost like a journey of Marco Polo—to go over hill and dale to the edge of the sea—the Adriatic!
I went with my mother to Ravenna and carefully visited every corner of that city steeped in the essences of antiquity. From the wealth of Ravenna's artistic treasures there rose before me the beauty and fascination of her history and her name through the long centuries. Deep feelings remain now, impressed then upon me. I experienced a profound and significant enlarging of my concepts of life, beauty and the rise of civilizations. The tomb of Dante, inspiring in its quiet hour of noon; the basilica of San Apollinare; the Candiano canal, with the pointed sails of fishing-boats at its mouth; and then the beauty of the Adriatic moved me—touched something within me.
I went back with something new and undying. My mind and spirit were filled with expanding consciousness. And I took back also a present from my relatives. It was a wild duck, powerful in flight. My brother Arnaldo and I, on the little river at home, put forth patient efforts to tame the wild duck.CHAPTER 2
MY FATHER took a profound interest in my development. Perhaps I was much more observed by his paternal attention than I thought. We became much more knit together by common interests as my mind and body approached maturity. In the first place I became fascinated by the steam threshing machines which were just then for the first time being introduced into our agricultural life. With my father I went to work to learn the mechanism, and tasted, as I had never tasted before, the quiet joy of becoming a part of the working creative world. Machinery has its fascinations and I can understand how an engineer of a railway locomotive or an oiler in the hold of a ship may feel that a machine has a personality, sometimes irritating, sometimes friendly, with an inexhaustible generosity and helpfulness, power and wisdom.
But manual labor in my father's blacksmith shop was not the only common interest we shared. It was inevitable that I should find a clearer understanding of those political and social questions which in the midst of discussions with the neighbors had appeared to me as unfathomable, and hence a stupid world of words. I could not follow as a child the arguments of lengthy debates around the table, nor did I grasp the reasons for the watchfulness and measures taken by the police. But now in an obscure way it all appeared as connected with the lives of strong men who not only dominate their own lives but also the lives of their fellow creatures. Slowly but fatally I was turning my spirit and my mind to new political ideals destined to flower for a time.
I began with young eyes to see that the tiny world about me was feeling uneasiness under the pinch of necessity. A deep and secret grudge was darkening the hearts of the common people. A country gentry of mediocrity in economic usefulness and of limited intellectual contribution were hanging upon the multitudes a weight of unjustified privileges. These were sad, dark years not only in my own province but for other parts of Italy. I must have the marks upon my memory of the resentful and furtive protests of those who came to talk with my father, some with bitterness of facts, some with a newly devised hope for some reform.
It was then, while I was still in my early teens, that my parents, after many serious talks, ending with a rapid family counsel, turned the rudder of my destiny in a new direction. They said that my manual work did not correspond to their ambitions for me, to their ability to aid me, nor did it fit my own capacities. My mother had a phrase which remains in my ears: "He promises something."
At the time I was not very enthusiastic about that conclusion; I had no real hunger for scholastic endeavor. I did not feel that I would languish if I did not go to a normal school and did not prepare to become a teacher. But my family were right. I had developed some capacities as a student and could increase them.
I went to the normal school at a place called Forlimpopoli. I remember my arrival in that small city. The citizens were cheerful and industrious, good at bargaining—tradesmen and middlemen. The school, however, had a greater distinction; it was conducted by Valfredo Carducci, brother of the great writer Giosue Carducci, who at that time was harvesting his laurels because of his poetry and his inspiration drawn from Roman classicism.
There was a long stretch of study ahead of me; to become a master—to have a teacher's diploma—meant six years of books and pencils, ink and paper. I confess that I was not very assiduous. The bright side of those years of preparation to be a teacher came from my interest in reforming educational methods, and even more in an interest begun at that time and maintained ever since, an intense interest in the psychology of human masses—the crowd.
I was, I believe, unruly; and I was sometimes indiscreet. Youth has its passing restlessness and follies. Somehow I succeeded in gaining forgiveness. My masters were understanding and on the whole generous. But I have never been able to make up my mind how much of the indulgence accorded to me came from any hope they had in me or how much came from the fact that my father had acquired an increasing reputation for his moral and political integrity.
So the diploma came to me at last. I was a teacher! Many are the men who have found activity in political life who began as teachers. But then I saw only the prospect of the hard road of job hunting, letters of recommendation, scraping up a backing of influential persons and so on.
In a competition for a teacher's place at Gualtieri, in the province of Reggio Emilia, I was successful. I had my taste of it. I taught for a year. On the last day of the school year I dictated an essay. I remember its thesis. It was: "By Persevering You Arrive." For that I obtained the praise of my superiors.
So school was closed. I did not want to go back to my family. There was a narrow world for me, with affection to be sure, but restricted. There in Predappio one could neither move nor think without feeling at the end of a short rope. I had become conscious of myself, sensitive to my future. I felt the urge to escape.
Money I had not—merely a little. Courage was my asset. I would be an exile. I crossed the frontier; I entered Switzerland.
It was in this wander-life, now full of difficulties, toil, hardship and restlessness, that developed something in me. It was the milestone which marked my maturity. I entered into this new era as a man and politician. My confident soul began to be my support. I conceded nothing to pious demagoguery. I allowed myself, humble as was my figure, to be guided by my innate proudness and I saw myself in my own mental dress.
To this day I thank difficulties. They were more numerous than the nice, happy incidents. But the latter gave me nothing. The difficulties of life have hardened my spirit. They have taught me how to live.
For me it would have been dreadful and fatal if on my journey forward I had by chance fallen permanently into the chains of comfortable bureaucratic employment. How could I have adapted myself to that smug existence in a world bristling with interest and significant horizons? How could I have tolerated the halting progress of promotions, comforted and yet irritated by the thoughts of an old-age pension at the end of the dull road? Any comfortable cranny would have sapped my energies. These energies which I enjoy were trained by obstacles and even by bitterness of soul. They were made by struggle, not by the joys of the pathway.
Excerpted from My Autobiography with "The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism" by Benito Mussolini. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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