Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini
(July 29, 1883 - April 28, 1945) was the fascist dictator of Italy from
1922 to 1943. Mussolini created an anti-democratic, fascist state in Italy
through the use of propaganda. By using his total control of the media,
he disassembled the existing democratic government system.
Mussolini was born in Predappio, near Forli, in Romagna. His father,
Alessandro, was a blacksmith, and his mother, Rosa Maltoni, was a teacher.
Like his father, Benito became a socialist and later a Marxist. 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 became one of the most important developers of the original
Birth of Fascism
He broke with the Socialists on the issue of Italy's entry into the First
World War. In November 1914 he founded a new newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia,
(or the Italian People
) and the prowar group Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria.
He thereby coined the term fascism from the fasci carried by Roman magistrates,
bundles of branches which when bound together were stronger than when they
were apart - reflecting the intellectual debt that fascism owed to socialism.
Mussolini claimed that it would help strengthen a relatively new nation
(which had been united in the Risorgimento only in the 1860s), alhough
some would say that like Lenin he wished for a collapse of society that
would bring him to power. Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance and
so allied with Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, however
she did not join the war in 1914 and in 1915 joined - as Mussolini wanted
- on the side of Britain and France.
Called up for military service, he 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 Socialist
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
a demonstrative "Marcia su Roma" (Oct. 28th 1922), Mussolini was invited
by the king to form a new government.
Mussolini’s Fascist state, established nearly a decade before 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 apparent failure
of laissez-faire and fear of the left, although trends in intellectual
history, such as the breakdown of positivism and the general fatalism of
postwar Europe should be of concern. Fascism was, to an extent, a product
of a general feeling of anxiety and fear among the middle class of postwar
Italy arising because of a convergence of interrelated economic, political,
and cultural pressures.
Under the banner of this authoritarian and nationalistic ideology, Mussolini
was able to exploit fears regarding the survival of capitalism 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. 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 .
In a way, Benito Mussolini filled a vacuum. 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.
At first he was supported by the Liberals in parliament. With their help
he introduced strict censorship and altered the methods of election so
that in 1925-1926 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 the "Duce (Il duce
a man who was always right and could solve all the problems of politics
and economics. Italy was soon a police state. With those who tried to resist
him, for example the Socialist Giacomo Matteotti, he showed himself utterly
ruthless. But Mussolini's skill in propaganda was such that he had surprisingly
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 Fascist militia. 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
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 that was replacing liberalism
and democracy. The principles of this doctrine were laid down in the article
on fascism, reputedly written by himself, 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
Under the dictatorship the parliamentary system was virtually abolished.
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) 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 public works. But
the economy suffered from his exaggerated attempt to make Italy self-sufficient.
There was too much concentration on heavy industry, for which Italy lacked
In foreign policy, Mussolini soon shifted from pacifist anti-imperialism
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 reconquering Libya. It was his dream
to make the Mediterranean "mare nostrum ("our sea). 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 Gen.Francisco 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. However, he refused
to allow Jews to be deported to concentration camps until Germany occupied
Italy during the war. 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
As World War II (WWII) approached, Mussolini announced his intention of
annexing Malta, Corsica, and Tunis. He spoke of creating a "New Roman Empire"
which would stretch from Libya to Palestine; and from 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-belligerant" until he was quite certain which
side would win.
On June 10, 1940, as the German's General Rommel reached the English
coast, Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. In October, Italy
attacked Greece in what is generally seen as a failure. In June 1941, he
declared war on the Soviet Union and in December he declared war on the
See also: Italian military history of World War II
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.
This enabled the king to dismiss and arrest him.
He was then sent to Gran Sasso, a mountain recovery in central Italy
(Abruzzo), in complete isolation.
Mussolini was substituted by the Maresciallo d'Italia Gen. Pietro Badoglio,
who immediately declared in a famous speech "La guerra continua a fianco
dell'Alleato Germanico" ("War continues at the side of our German allies"),
but was instead working to negotiate a surrender; in a few days (Sep. the
8th) Badoglio would sign a armistice with allied troops.
Rescued by the Germans several months later in a spectacular raid by
Otto Skorzeny, Mussolini set up 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 Salo'", 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.
On April 28, 1945, just before the Allied armies reached Milan, Mussolini,
along with his mistress Claretta Petacci, was caught by Italian partisans
as he headed for Chiavenna to board a plane for escape to Switzerland.
They were both shot on the spot along with their sixteen-man escort The
next day the bodies were hung in Piazzale Loreto (Milan) along with those
of other fascists to be abused by the crowds. Mussolini's body was then
taken to Predappio and the family chapel.
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
Mussolini's granddaughter Alessandra, daughter of Romano Mussolini,
is today a deputy in the Republican Chamber representing the Alleanza Nazionale
party for Naples.
"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger
of state and corporate power."