Benito Mussolini

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Benito Mussolini created a fascist state through the use of propaganda, total control of the media and disassembly of the working democratic government.

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (Predappio near Forl, July 29, 1883 – Giulino di Mezzegra near Como, April 28, 1945) led Italy from 1922 to 1943. He created a fascist state through the use of state terror and propaganda. Using his charisma, total control of the media and intimidation of political rivals, he disassembled the existing democratic government system. His entry into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany made Italy a target for Allied attacks and ultimately led to his downfall and death. In November 2004 he was voted the 34th greatest Italian in a television poll.


Early years

Mussolini was born in a small village named Predappio in the province of Forl, in Emilia-Romagna. His father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith. His mother, Rosa Maltoni, was a teacher who believed education was extremely important. He was named Benito after Mexican reformist President Benito Jurez. Like his father, Benito became a socialist. By age eight, he was banned from his mother's church, and a few years later he was expelled from school, due to stabbing a fellow student and throwing an ink pot at a teacher. He did get good grades though.He qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901. In 1902 he emigrated to Switzerland. Unable to find a permanent job there and arrested for vagrancy, he was expelled and returned to Italy to do his military service. After further trouble with the police, he joined the staff of a newspaper in the Austrian town of Trento in 1908. At this time he wrote a novel, subsequently translated into English as The Cardinal's Mistress. Mussolini had a brother, Arnaldo, who would later become the editor of Il Popolo d'Italia, the official newspaper of Benito Mussolini's regime.

Birth of Fascism

The word "Fascio" had existed in Italian politics for some time. A section of revolutionary syndicalists broke with the Socialists over the issue of Italy's entry into the First World War. Mussolini agreed with them. These syndicalists formed a group called Fasci d'azione rivoluzionaria internazionalista in October 1914. Massimo Rocca and Tulio Masotti asked Mussolini to settle the contradiction of his support for interventionism and still being the editor of Avanti and an official party functionary in the Socialist Party. (1) Two weeks later, he joined the Milan fascio. In November, 1914, supported by his then mistress Margherita Sarfatti, he founded a new newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia, (The Italian People) and the prowar group Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria. Mussolini was attracted to fasces, the ancient Roman symbol of the life-and-death power of the state, bundles of the lictors' rods of chastisement which, when bound together, were stronger than when they were apart — reflecting the intellectual debt that fascism owed to socialism and presaging the symbolism of the renewed Roman imperium Mussolini promised to bring about. Mussolini claimed that it would help strengthen a relatively new nation (which had been united only in the 1860s in the Risorgimento), although some would say that he wished for a collapse of society that would bring him to power. Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance, thereby allied with Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It did not join the war in 1914 but did in 1915 — as Mussolini wished — on the side of Britain and France.

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini

Called up for military service, Mussolini was wounded in grenade practice in 1917 and returned to edit his paper. Fascism became an organized political movement following a meeting in Milan on March 23, 1919 (Mussolini founded the Fasci di Combattimento on February 23, however). After failing in the 1919 elections, Mussolini at last entered parliament in 1921 as a right-wing member. The Fascisti formed armed squads of war veterans to terrorize socialists and communists. The government seldom interfered. In return for the support of a group of industrialists and agrarians, Mussolini gave his approval (often active) to strikebreaking, and he abandoned revolutionary agitation. When the liberal governments of Giovanni Giolitti, Ivanoe Bonomi, and Luigi Facta failed to stop the spread of anarchy, and after Fascists had organised the demonstrative and threatening Marcia su Roma ("March on Rome") (October 28th 1922), Mussolini was invited by Vittorio Emanuele III to form a new government. He became the youngest Premier in the history of Italy on October 31.

Mussolini's Fascist state, established nearly a decade before Adolf Hitler's rise to power, would provide a model for Hitler's later economic and political policies. Both a movement and a historical phenomenon, Italian Fascism was, in many respects, an adverse reaction to both the perceived failure of laissez-faire economics and fear of international Bolshevism (a short-lived Soviet was established in Bavaria just about this time), although trends in intellectual history, such as the breakdown of positivism and the general fatalism of postwar Europe were also factors. Fascism was a product of a general feeling of anxiety and fear among the middle-class of postwar Italy, arising out of a convergence of interrelated economic, political, and cultural pressures. Italy had no long-term tradition of parliamentary compromise, and public discourse took on an inflammatory tone on all sides.

Under the banner of this authoritarian and nationalist ideology, Mussolini was able to exploit fears in an era in which postwar depression, the rise of a more militant left, and a feeling of national shame and humiliation stemming from its 'mutilated victory' at the hands of the World War I peace treaties seemed to converge. Italian influence in the Aegean and abroad seemed impotent and disregarded by the greater powers, and Italy lacked colonies. Such unfulfilled nationalistic aspirations tainted the reputation of liberalism and constitutionalism among many sectors of the Italian population. In addition, such democratic institutions had never grown to become firmly rooted in the young nation-state. And as the same postwar depression heightened the allure of Marxism among an urban proletariat even more disenfranchised than their continental counterparts, fear regarding the growing strength of trade unionism, communism, and socialism proliferated among the elite and the middle class .

Fascism emerged as a "third way" — as Italy's last hope to avoid imminent collapse of 'weak' Italian liberalism or communist revolution. While failing to outline a coherent program, it evolved into new political and economic system that combined corporatism, totalitarianism, nationalism, and anti-communism in a state designed to bind all classes together under a capitalist system, but a new capitalist system in which the state seized control of the organization of vital industries. The appeal of this movement, the promise of a more orderly capitalism during an era of interwar depression, however, was not isolated to Italy, or even Europe.

Fascist dictatorship

At first Mussolini was supported by the Liberals in parliament. With their help, he introduced strict censorship and altered the methods of election so that in 19251926 he was able to assume dictatorial powers and dissolve all other political parties. Skillfully using his absolute control over the press, he gradually built up the legend of Il duce, a man who never slept, was always right, and could solve all the problems of politics and economics. He introduced the Press Laws in 1925 which stated that all journalists must be registered Fascists. However, not all newspapers were taken into public ownership and Corriere della Sera sold on average 10 times as many copies as the leading Fascist newspaper 'Il Popolo D'Italia'. Italy was soon a police state. The assassination of the prominent Socialist Giacomo Matteotti in 1924, began a prolonged political crisis in Italy, which did not end until the beginning of 1925 when Mussolini asserted his personal authority over both country and party to establish a personal dictatorship. Mussolini's skill in propaganda was such that he had surprisingly little opposition to suppress.

At various times after 1922, Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, of foreign affairs, of the colonies, of the corporations, of the army and the other armed services, and of public works. Sometimes he held as many as seven departments simultaneously, as well as the premiership. He was also head of the all-powerful Fascist party (formed in 1921) and the armed local Fascist militia, the MVSN or Blackshirts that terrorized incipient resistances in the cities and provinces. He would later form an institutionalised militia that carried official state support, the OVRA. In this way he succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival. But it was at the price of creating a regime that was overcentralized, inefficient, and corrupt.

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Mussolini was a passionate public speaker

Most of his time was spent on propaganda, whether at home or abroad, and here his training as a journalist was invaluable. Press, radio, education, films — all were carefully supervised to manufacture the illusion that fascism was the doctrine of the 20th century, replacing liberalism and democracy. The principles of this doctrine were laid down in the article on fascism, written by Giovanni Gentile and signed by Mussolini that appeared in 1932 in the Enciclopedia Italiana. In 1929, a concordat with the Vatican was signed, by which the Italian state was at last recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and the independence of Vatican City was recognized by the Italian state.

Under the dictatorship, the effectiveness of parliamentary system was virtually abolished though its forms were publicly preserved. The law codes were rewritten. All teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the Fascist regime. Newspaper editors were all personally chosen by Mussolini himself, and no one could practice journalism who did not possess a certificate of approval from the Fascist party. The trade unions were also deprived of any independence and were integrated into what was called the "corporative" system. The aim (never completely achieved), inspired by medieval guilds, was to place all Italians in various professional organizations or "corporations", all of them under governmental control.

Mussolini played up to his financial backers at first by transferring a number of industries from public to private ownership. But by the 1930s he had begun moving back to the opposite extreme of rigid governmental control of industry. A great deal of money was spent on highly visible public works, and on international prestige projects such as the The Rex Blue Riband ocean liner [1] (, but the economy suffered from his strenuous efforts to make Italy self-sufficient. A concentration on heavy industry proved problematic, because Italy lacked the basic resources.

In foreign policy, Mussolini soon shifted from the pacifist anti-imperialism of his lead-up to power, to an extreme form of aggressive nationalism. An early example of this was his bombardment of Corfu in 1923. Soon after this he succeeded in setting up a puppet regime in Albania and in ruthlessly consolidating Italian power in Libya, loosely a colony since 1912. It was his dream to make the Mediterranean mare nostrum ("our sea" in Latin). In 1935, at the Stresa Conference, he helped create an anti-Hitler front in order to defend the independence of Austria. But his successful war against Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935–1936 was opposed by the League of Nations, and he sought an alliance with Nazi Germany, which had withdrawn from the League in 1933. His active intervention in 1936-1939 on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War ended any possibility of reconciliation with France and Britain. As a result, he had to accept the German annexation of Austria in 1938 and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1939. At the Munich Conference in September 1938 he posed as a moderate working for European peace. But his "axis' with Germany was confirmed when he made the "Pact of Steel" with Hitler in May 1939. Clearly the subordinate partner, Mussolini followed the Nazis in adopting a racial policy that led to persecution of the Jews and the creation of apartheid in the Italian empire. Before this, Jews were not specifically persecuted by Mussolini's government, and were permitted to be high members of the Party. + - Later, he would refuse to allow Jews to be deported to concentration camps until Germany occupied Italy during the war (a period depicted in the movie, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis). Members of TIGR, a Slovene anti-fascist group, plotted to kill Mussolini in Kobarid in 1938, but this was unsuccessful.

The Axis of Blood and Steel

The term "Axis Powers" was coined by Mussolini, in November 1936, when he spoke of a Rome-Berlin axis in reference to the treaty of friendship signed between Italy and Germany on October 25, 1936. Later, in May 1939, Mussolini would describe the relationship with Germany as a "Pact of Steel", something he had earlier referred to as a "Pact of Blood".

World War II

Benito Mussolini and
Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler

As World War II (WWII) approached, Mussolini announced his intention of annexing Malta, Corsica, and Tunis. He spoke of creating a "New Roman Empire" that would stretch east to Palestine and south through Libya and Egypt to Kenya. In April 1939, after a brief war, he annexed Albania, a campaign which strained his military. His armed forces are generally considered to have been unprepared for combat when the German invasion of Poland led to World War II. Mussolini thus decided to remain 'non-belligerent' until he was quite certain which side would win.

On June 10, 1940, as the Germans under General Guderian reached the English Channel, Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. In October, Italy attacked Greece and lost in result 1/3 of Albania, until Germany attacked Greece as well. In June 1941, he declared war on the Soviet Union and in December he declared war on the United States.

Following Italian defeats on all fronts and the Anglo-American landing in Sicily in 1943, most of Mussolini's colleagues (Count Galeazzo Ciano, the foreign minister and also Mussolini's son-in-law, included) turned against him at a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on July 25, 1943. King Vittorio Emanuele III called Mussolini to his palace and stripped the dictator of his power. Upon leaving the palace, Mussolini was swiftly arrested. He was then sent to Gran Sasso, a mountain recovery in central Italy (Abruzzo), in complete isolation.

Mussolini was replaced by the Maresciallo d'Italia Gen. Pietro Badoglio, who immediately declared in a famous speech "La guerra continua a fianco dell'alleato germanico" ("The war shoulder to shoulder with our Germanic allies continues"), but was instead working to negotiate a surrender; in a few days (September the 8th) Badoglio would sign an armistice with Allied troops.

Rescued by the Germans several months later in a spectacular raid led by General Kurt Student, Mussolini set up the Italian Social Republic, a Republican Fascist state (RSI, Repubblica Sociale Italiana) in northern Italy with him living in Gargnano. But he was little more than a puppet under the protection of the German Army. In this "Republic of Sal", Mussolini returned to his earlier ideas of socialism and collectivization. He also executed some of the Fascist leaders who had abandoned him, including his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. During this period he wrote his memoirs entitled My Rise and Fall.

On April 27, 1945, in the afternoon, near the village of Dongo (Como Lake), just before the Allied armies reached Milan, Mussolini, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci, were caught by the Italian partisans as he headed for Chiavenna to board a plane for escape to Switzerland. The day after, April 28, they were both executed along with their sixteen-man train, mostly ministers and officials of the Italian Social Republic. The next day their bodies were hung, upside down, in Piazzale Loreto (Milan) along with those of other fascists, to be abused by the crowds. Mussolini's body was then buried in an unmarked grave in a Milan cemetery until the 1950s, when his body was moved back to Predappio. It was actually stolen briefly in the late '50s, then again returned to Predappio. Here he was buried in a crypt (the only posthumous honor granted to Mussolini; his tomb is flanked by marble fasces and a large idealized marble bust of himself sits above the tomb.)

According to an investigation made by some journalists, among whom the American Peter Tomkins who was an OSS agent in Milano (Italy) during WW II, and aired on August 2004 by the Italian national TV network Rai Tre, Mussolini was killed on April 28, 1945 in the morning, by some British secret agents on their attempt to take possession of the Churchill-Mussolini exchange of letters. These documents might have been awkward to Churchill, given that some speculate the two statesmen were discussing an anti-Soviet separate peace, despite the agreements previously stipulated between the Allies. The investigation is backed also by the witness of Bruno Giovanni Lonati, on that time an Italian communist partisan member of the "Brigate Garibaldi" in Milan. [2] ( [3] (

This version is in contrast with the report of "Colonnello Valerio" the partisan commander charged by the CLN (National Liberation Committee) with the task to execute the death sentence issued against Mussolini. According to Colonnello Valerio, Benito Mussolini and Claretta Petacci were executed on April 28, in the afternoon, in the village of Giulino di Mezzegra.

The Duce was survived by his wife, Donna Rachele, by two sons, Vittorio and Romano Mussolini, and his daughter Edda, the widow of Count Ciano. A third son, Bruno, had been killed in an air accident while testing a military plane. Mussolini's granddaughter Alessandra, daughter of Romano Mussolini, is currently a deputy in the Republican Chamber and Member of the European Parliament for the fascist party Alternative Sociale.

Mussolini was the inspiration for the character of Benzino Napaloni in Charlie Chaplin's movie The Great Dictator.



  1. The Birth of Fascist Ideolofgy, From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution, Zeev Sternhell, with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, trans. by David Maisel, Princeton University Press, NJ, 1994. pg 214.

Writings of Mussolini

  • Giovanni Hus (Jan Hus), il verdico Rome (1913) Published in America under John Hus (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, l929) Republished by the Italian Book Co., NY (1939) under John Hus, the Veracious.
  • The Cardinal's Mistress (trans. Hiram Motherwell, New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1928)

See also

External links


Preceded by:
Luigi Facta
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by:
Pietro Badoglio
Preceded by:
Head of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Social Republic
Succeeded by:

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