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Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (/ˌmʊsəˈliːni/, also US: /ˌmuːs-/, Italian: [beˈniːto mussoˈliːni];[1] 29 July 1883 – 28 April 1945) was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from the fascists' takeover of state power in 1922 until 1943, and Duce from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.[2][3][4]

A journalist and politician, Mussolini had been a leading member of the National Directorate of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) from 1910 to 1914,[5] but was expelled from the PSI for advocating military intervention in World War I, in opposition to the party's stance on neutrality. Mussolini served in the Royal Italian Army during the war until he was wounded and discharged in 1917. Mussolini denounced the PSI, his views now centering on nationalism instead of socialism and later founded the fascist movement which came to oppose egalitarianism[6] and class conflict, instead advocating "revolutionary nationalism" transcending class lines.[7] Following the March on Rome in October 1922, Mussolini became the youngest Italian Prime Minister up to that date. After removing all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes,[8] Mussolini and his followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a one-party dictatorship. Within five years, Mussolini had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means and aspired to create a totalitarian state. In 1929, Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty with the Vatican, ending decades of struggle between the Italian state and the Papacy, and recognized the independence of Vatican City.

Mussolini's foreign policy aimed to expand the sphere of influence of Italian fascism. In 1923, he began the "Pacification of Libya" and ordered the bombing of Corfu in retaliation for the murder of an Italian general. In 1936, Mussolini formed Italian East Africa (AOI) by merging Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia following the Abyssinian crisis and the Second Italo–Ethiopian War. In 1939, Italian forces occupied Albania. Between 1936 and 1939, Mussolini ordered the successful Italian military intervention in Spain in favor of Francisco Franco during the Spanish civil war. At the same time, Mussolini's Italy tried to avoid the outbreak of a second global war and took part in the Stresa front, the Lytton Report, the Treaty of Lausanne, the Four-Power Pact and the Munich Agreement. However, Italy distanced Britain and France by forming the axis powers with Germany and Japan. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, resulting in declarations of war by France and the UK and the start of World War II.

On 10 June 1940—with the Fall of France imminent—Italy officially entered the war and occupied parts of south-east France, Corsica and Tunisia. Mussolini planned to concentrate Italian forces on a major offensive against the British Empire in Africa and the Middle East, while expecting the collapse of the UK in the European theatre. The Italians invaded Egypt, bombed Mandatory Palestine, and occupied British Somaliland with initial success. However, the British government refused to accept proposals for a peace that would involve accepting Axis victories in Eastern and Western Europe; plans for an invasion of the UK did not proceed and the war continued. In October 1940, Mussolini sent Italian forces into Greece, starting the Greco-Italian War. The British air force prevented the Italian invasion and allowed the Greeks to push the Italians back to Albania.[9]

The Balkan campaign was significantly prolonged until the definition of the Axis occupation of Greece and Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour forced Mussolini to send an Italian army in Russia and declare war on the United States.[10] Mussolini was aware that Italy, whose resources were reduced by the campaigns of the 1930s, was not ready for a long conflict against three superpowers but opted to remain in the conflict to not abandon the fascist imperial ambitions.[10] In 1943, Italy suffered major disasters: by February the Red Army had completely destroyed the Italian Army in Russia; in May the Axis collapsed in North Africa despite previous Italian resistance at the second battle of El Alamein. On 9 July the Anglo-Americans invaded Sicily; and by the 16th it became clear the German summer offensive in the USSR had failed. As a consequence, early on 25 July, the Grand Council of Fascism passed a motion of no confidence for Mussolini; later that day the King dismissed him as head of government and had him placed in custody, appointing Pietro Badoglio to succeed him as Prime Minister.

After the king agreed the armistice with the allies, on 12 September 1943 Mussolini was rescued from captivity in the Gran Sasso raid by German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos led by Major Otto-Harald Mors. Adolf Hitler, after meeting with the rescued former dictator, then put Mussolini in charge of a puppet regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Italian: Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI),[12] informally known as the Salò Republic. In late April 1945, in the wake of near total defeat, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci attempted to flee to Switzerland,[13] but both were captured by Italian communist partisans and summarily executed by firing squad on 28 April 1945 near Lake Como. His body was then taken to Milan, where it was hung upside down at a service station to publicly confirm his demise.[14]

Early life


Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883 in Dovia di Predappio, a small town in the province of Forlì in Romagna. Later, during the Fascist era, Predappio was dubbed "Duce's town" and Forlì was called "Duce's city", with pilgrims going to Predappio and Forlì to see the birthplace of Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini's father, Alessandro Mussolini, was a blacksmith and a socialist,[15] while his mother, Rosa (née Maltoni), was a devout Catholic schoolteacher.[16] Given his father's political leanings, Mussolini was named Benito after liberal Mexican president Benito Juárez, while his middle names, Andrea and Amilcare, were for Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani.[17] Benito was the eldest of his parents' three children. His siblings Arnaldo and Edvige followed.[18]

As a young boy, Mussolini would spend some time helping his father in his smithy.[19] Mussolini's early political views were strongly influenced by his father, who idolized 19th-century Italian nationalist figures with humanist tendencies such as Carlo Pisacane, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Giuseppe Garibaldi.[20] His father's political outlook combined views of anarchist figures such as Carlo Cafiero and Mikhail Bakunin, the military authoritarianism of Garibaldi, and the nationalism of Mazzini. In 1902, at the anniversary of Garibaldi's death, Mussolini made a public speech in praise of the republican nationalist.[21]

The conflict between his parents about religion meant that, unlike most Italians, Mussolini was not baptized at birth and would not be until much later in life.

In 1902, Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland, partly to avoid compulsory military service.[15] He worked briefly as a stonemason in Geneva, Fribourg and Bern, but was unable to find a permanent job.

During this time he studied the ideas of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, and the syndicalist Georges Sorel. Mussolini also later credited the Christian socialist Charles Péguy and the syndicalist Hubert Lagardelle as some of his influences.[22] Sorel's emphasis on the need for overthrowing decadent liberal democracy and capitalism by the use of violence, direct action, the general strike and the use of neo-Machiavellian appeals to emotion, impressed Mussolini deeply.[15]

Mussolini became active in the Italian socialist movement in Switzerland, working for the paper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore, organizing meetings, giving speeches to workers, and serving as secretary of the Italian workers' union in Lausanne.[23] Angelica Balabanov reportedly introduced him to Vladimir Lenin, who later criticized Italian socialists for having lost Mussolini from their cause.[24] In 1903, he was arrested by the Bernese police because of his advocacy of a violent general strike, spent two weeks in jail, and was deported to Italy. After he was released there, he returned to Switzerland.[25] In 1904, having been arrested again in Geneva and expelled for falsifying his papers, Mussolini returned to Lausanne, where he attended the University of Lausanne's Department of Social Science, following the lessons of Vilfredo Pareto.[19] In 1937, when he was prime minister of Italy, the University of Lausanne awarded Mussolini an honorary doctorate on the occasion of its 400th anniversary.[27]

In December 1904, Mussolini returned to Italy to take advantage of an amnesty for desertion of the military.

Since a condition for being pardoned was serving in the army, he joined the corps of the Bersaglieri in Forlì on 30 December 1904.[19] After serving for two years in the military (from January 1905 until September 1906), he returned to teaching.[30]

In February 1909,[31] Mussolini again left Italy, this time to take the job as the secretary of the labor party in the Italian-speaking city of Trento, which at the time was part of Austria-Hungary (it is now within Italy). He also did office work for the local Socialist Party, and edited its newspaper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore (The Future of the Worker). Returning to Italy, he spent a brief time in Milan, and in 1910 he returned to his hometown of Forlì, where he edited the weekly Lotta di classe (The Class Struggle).

Mussolini thought of himself as an intellectual and was considered to be well-read.

During this time, he published "Il Trentino veduto da un Socialista" ("Trentino as seen by a Socialist") in the radical periodical La Voce.[34]The%20Life%20of%20Benito%20Mussol]]e also wrote several essays about German literature, some stories, and one novel: icella, romanzo storico (The Cardinal's Mistress). This novel he co-wrote with Santi Corvaja, and it was published as a serial book in the Trento newspaper Il Popolo. It was released in installments from 20 January to 11 May 1910.[35] The novel was bitterly anticlerical, and years later was withdrawn from circulation after Mussolini made a truce with the Vatican.[15]

He had become one of Italy's most prominent socialists.

He was rewarded the editorship of the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti! Under his leadership, its circulation soon rose from 20,000 to 100,000.[37] John Gunther in 1940 called him "one of the best journalists alive"; Mussolini was a working reporter while preparing for the March on Rome, and wrote for the Hearst News Service until 1935.[24] Mussolini was so familiar with Marxist literature that in his own writings he would not only quote from well-known Marxist works but also from the relatively obscure works.[38]Young%20Mussolini%20and%20the%20Int]]Young%20Mussolini%20and%20the%20Int]]Young%20Mussolini%20and%20the%20Int]]Young%20Mussolini%20and%20the%20Int]]Young%20Mussolini%20and%20the%20Int]]Young%20Mussolini%20and%20the%20Int]]uring this period Mussolini considered himself a Marxist and he described Marx as "the greatest of all theorists of socialism."

In 1913, he published Giovanni Hus, il veridico (Jan Hus, true prophet), an historical and political biography about the life and mission of the Czech ecclesiastic reformer Jan Hus and his militant followers, the Hussites. During this socialist period of his life, Mussolini sometimes used the pen name "Vero Eretico" ("sincere heretic").[40]

Mussolini rejected egalitarianism, a core doctrine of socialism.[6] He was influenced by Nietzsche's anti-Christian ideas and negation of God's existence.[41] Mussolini felt that socialism had faltered, in view of the failures of Marxist determinism and social democratic reformism, and believed that Nietzsche's ideas would strengthen socialism. While associated with socialism, Mussolini's writings eventually indicated that he had abandoned Marxism and egalitarianism in favor of Nietzsche's übermensch concept and anti-egalitarianism.[41]

A number of socialist parties initially supported World War I at the time it began in August 1914.[42] Once the war started, Austrian, British, French, and German socialists followed the rising nationalist current by supporting their country's intervention in the war.[43] The outbreak of the war had resulted in a surge of Italian nationalism and the war was supported by a variety of political factions. One of the most prominent and popular Italian nationalist supporters of the war was Gabriele d'Annunzio who promoted Italian irredentism and helped sway the Italian public to support intervention in the war.[44] The Italian Liberal Party under the leadership of Paolo Boselli promoted intervention in the war on the side of the Allies and utilized the Società Dante Alighieri to promote Italian nationalism.[45][46] Italian socialists were divided on whether to support the war or oppose it.[47] Prior to Mussolini taking a position on the war, a number of revolutionary syndicalists had announced their support of intervention, including Alceste De Ambris, Filippo Corridoni, and Angelo Oliviero Olivetti.[48] The Italian Socialist Party decided to oppose the war after anti-militarist protestors had been killed, resulting in a general strike called Red Week.[49]

Mussolini initially held official support for the party's decision and, in an August 1914 article, Mussolini wrote "Down with the War.

Mussolini further justified his position by denouncing the Central Powers for being reactionary powers; for pursuing imperialist designs against Belgium and Serbia as well as historically against Denmark, France, and against Italians, since hundreds of thousands of Italians were under Habsburg rule. He argued that the fall of Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies and the repression of "reactionary" Turkey would create conditions beneficial for the working class. While he was supportive of the Entente powers, Mussolini responded to the conservative nature of Tsarist Russia by stating that the mobilization required for the war would undermine Russia's reactionary authoritarianism and the war would bring Russia to social revolution. He said that for Italy the war would complete the process of Risorgimento by uniting the Italians in Austria-Hungary into Italy and by allowing the common people of Italy to be participating members of the Italian nation in what would be Italy's first national war. Thus he claimed that the vast social changes that the war could offer meant that it should be supported as a revolutionary war.[48]

As Mussolini's support for the intervention solidified, he came into conflict with socialists who opposed the war.

The following excerpts are from a police report prepared by the Inspector-General of Public Security in Milan, G. Gasti, that describe his background and his position on the First World War that resulted in his ousting from the Italian Socialist Party.

In his summary, the Inspector also noted:

After being ousted by the Italian Socialist Party for his support of Italian intervention, Mussolini made a radical transformation, ending his support for class conflict and joining in support of revolutionary nationalism transcending class lines.[7] He formed the interventionist newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia and the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista ("Revolutionary Fasci for International Action") in October 1914.[46] His nationalist support of intervention enabled him to raise funds from Ansaldo (an armaments firm) and other companies to create Il Popolo d'Italia to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war.[52] Further funding for Mussolini's Fascists during the war came from French sources, beginning in May 1915. A major source of this funding from France is believed to have been from French socialists who sent support to dissident socialists who wanted Italian intervention on France's side.[53]

On 5 December 1914, Mussolini denounced orthodox socialism for failing to recognize that the war had made national identity and loyalty more significant than class distinction.[7] He fully demonstrated his transformation in a speech that acknowledged the nation as an entity, a notion he had rejected prior to the war, saying:

Mussolini continued to promote the need of a revolutionary vanguard elite to lead society.

These basic political views and principles formed the basis of Mussolini's newly formed political movement, the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista in 1914, who called themselves Fascisti (Fascists).[58] At this time, the Fascists did not have an integrated set of policies and the movement was small, ineffective in its attempts to hold mass meetings, and was regularly harassed by government authorities and orthodox socialists.[59] Antagonism between the interventionists, including the Fascists, versus the anti-interventionist orthodox socialists resulted in violence between the Fascists and socialists. The opposition and attacks by the anti-interventionist revolutionary socialists against the Fascists and other interventionists were so violent that even democratic socialists who opposed the war such as Anna Kuliscioff said that the Italian Socialist Party had gone too far in a campaign of silencing the freedom of speech of supporters of the war. These early hostilities between the Fascists and the revolutionary socialists shaped Mussolini's conception of the nature of Fascism in its support of political violence.[60]

Mussolini became an ally with the irredentist politician and journalist Cesare Battisti and—like him—entered the Army and served in the war. "He was sent to the zone of operations where he was seriously injured by the explosion of a grenade."[37]

The Inspector General continued:

Mussolini's military experience is told in his work Diario di guerra. Overall, he totaled about nine months of active, front-line trench warfare. During this time, he contracted paratyphoid fever.[61]%2C%20Ivone%20Kirkpatrick%2C%20]]is military exploits ended in 1917 when he was wounded accidentally by the explosion of a mortar bomb in his trench. He was left with at least 40 shards of metal in his body.%2C%20Ivone%20Kirkpatrick%2C%20]]e was discharged from the hospital in August 1917 and resumed his editor-in-chief position at his new paper, Czechoslovak Legions in Italy.

On 25 December 1915, in Treviglio, he contracted a marriage with his fellow countrywoman Rachele Guidi, who had already borne him a daughter, Edda, at Forlì in 1910. In 1915, he had a son with Ida Dalser, a woman born in Sopramonte, a village near Trento.[16][17][62] He legally recognized this son on 11 January 1916.

Rise to power


By the time he returned from service in the Allied forces of World War I, very little remained of Mussolini the socialist. Indeed, he was now convinced that socialism as a doctrine had largely been a failure. In 1917 Mussolini got his start in politics with the help of a £100 weekly wage (the equivalent of £6000 as of 2009) from the British security service MI5, to keep anti-war protestors at home and to publish pro-war propaganda. This help was authorized by Sir Samuel Hoare.[63] In early 1918 Mussolini called for the emergence of a man "ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep" to revive the Italian nation.[64] Much later Mussolini said he felt by 1919 "Socialism as a doctrine was already dead; it continued to exist only as a grudge".[65] On 23 March 1919 Mussolini re-formed the Milan fascio as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad), consisting of 200 members.[66]

The ideological basis for fascism came from a number of sources.

The idea behind Mussolini's foreign policy was that of spazio vitale (vital space), a concept in Fascism that was analogous to Lebensraum in German National Socialism.[70] The concept of spazio vitale was first announced in 1919, when the entire Mediterranean, especially so-called Julian March, was redefined to make it appear a unified region that had belonged to Italy from the times of the ancient Roman province of Italia,[71][72] and was claimed as Italy's exclusive sphere of influence. The right to colonize the neighboring Slovene ethnic areas and the Mediterranean, being inhabited by what were alleged to be less developed peoples, was justified on the grounds that Italy was allegedly suffering from overpopulation.[73]

Borrowing the idea first developed by Enrico Corradini before 1914 of the natural conflict between "plutocratic" nations like Britain and "proletarian" nations like Italy, Mussolini claimed that Italy's principal problem was that "plutocratic" countries like Britain were blocking Italy from achieving the necessary spazio vitale that would let the Italian economy grow.[74] Mussolini equated a nation's potential for economic growth with territorial size, thus in his view the problem of poverty in Italy could only be solved by winning the necessary spazio vitale.[75]

Though biological racism was less prominent in Fascism than in National Socialism, right from the start the spazio vitale concept had a strong racist undercurrent. Mussolini asserted there was a "natural law" for stronger peoples to subject and dominate "inferior" peoples such as the "barbaric" Slavic peoples of Yugoslavia. He stated in a September 1920 speech:

While Italy occupied former Austro-Hungarian areas between years 1918 and 1920, five hundred "Slav" societies (for example Sokol) and slightly smaller number of libraries ("reading rooms") had been forbidden, specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926)—the closure of the classical lyceum in Pazin, of the high school in Voloska (1918), and the five hundred Slovene and Croatian primary schools followed.[78] One thousand "Slav" teachers were forcibly exiled to Sardinia and to Southern Italy.

In the same way, Mussolini argued that Italy was right to follow an imperialist policy in Africa because he saw all black people as "inferior" to whites.[79] Mussolini claimed that the world was divided into a hierarchy of races (stirpe, though this was justified more on cultural than on biological grounds), and that history was nothing more than a Darwinian struggle for power and territory between various "racial masses".[79] Mussolini saw high birthrates in Africa and Asia as a threat to the "white race" and he often asked the rhetorical question "Are the blacks and yellows at the door?" to be followed up with "Yes, they are!". Mussolini believed that the United States was doomed as the American blacks had a higher birthrate than whites, making it inevitable that the blacks would take over the United States to drag it down to their level.[80] The very fact that Italy was suffering from overpopulation was seen as proving the cultural and spiritual vitality of the Italians, who were thus justified in seeking to colonize lands that Mussolini argued—on a historical basis—belonged to Italy anyway, which was the heir to the Roman Empire. In Mussolini's thinking, demography was destiny; nations with rising populations were nations destined to conquer; and nations with falling populations were decaying powers that deserved to die. Hence, the importance of natalism to Mussolini, since only by increasing the birth rate could Italy ensure that its future as a great power that would win its spazio vitale would be assured. By Mussolini's reckoning, the Italian population had to reach 60 million to enable Italy to fight a major war—hence his relentless demands for Italian women to have more children in order to reach that number.[79]

Mussolini and the fascists managed to be simultaneously revolutionary and traditionalist;[81][82] because this was vastly different from anything else in the political climate of the time, it is sometimes described as "The Third Way".[83] The Fascisti, led by one of Mussolini's close confidants, Dino Grandi, formed armed squads of war veterans called blackshirts (or squadristi) with the goal of restoring order to the streets of Italy with a strong hand. The blackshirts clashed with communists, socialists, and anarchists at parades and demonstrations; all of these factions were also involved in clashes against each other. The Italian government rarely interfered with the blackshirts' actions, owing in part to a looming threat and widespread fear of a communist revolution. The Fascisti grew rapidly; within two years they transformed themselves into the National Fascist Party at a congress in Rome. In 1921, Mussolini won election to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time.[17] In the meantime, from about 1911 until 1938, Mussolini had various affairs with the Jewish author and academic Margherita Sarfatti, called the "Jewish Mother of Fascism" at the time.[84]

In the night between 27 and 28 October 1922, about 30,000 Fascist blackshirts gathered in Rome to demand the resignation of liberal Prime Minister Luigi Facta and the appointment of a new Fascist government. On the morning of 28 October, King Victor Emmanuel III, who according to the Albertine Statute held the supreme military power, refused the government request to declare martial law, which led to Facta's resignation. The King then handed over power to Mussolini (who stayed in his headquarters in Milan during the talks) by asking him to form a new government. The King's controversial decision has been explained by historians as a combination of delusions and fears; Mussolini enjoyed wide support in the military and among the industrial and agrarian elites, while the King and the conservative establishment were afraid of a possible civil war and ultimately thought they could use Mussolini to restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.[85]

As Prime Minister, the first years of Mussolini's rule were characterized by a right-wing coalition government composed of Fascists, nationalists, liberals, and two Catholic clerics from the Popular Party. The Fascists made up a small minority in his original governments. Mussolini's domestic goal was the eventual establishment of a totalitarian state with himself as supreme leader (Il Duce), a message that was articulated by the Fascist newspaper Il Popolo, which was now edited by Mussolini's brother, Arnaldo. To that end, Mussolini obtained from the legislature dictatorial powers for one year (legal under the Italian constitution of the time). He favored the complete restoration of state authority, with the integration of the Fasci di Combattimento into the armed forces (the foundation in January 1923 of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale) and the progressive identification of the party with the state. In political and social economy, he passed legislation that favored the wealthy industrial and agrarian classes (privatizations, liberalizations of rent laws and dismantlement of the unions).[17]

In 1923, Mussolini sent Italian forces to invade Corfu during the Corfu incident. In the end, the League of Nations proved powerless, and Greece was forced to comply with Italian demands.

In June 1923, the government passed the Acerbo Law, which transformed Italy into a single national constituency. It also granted a two-thirds majority of the seats in Parliament to the party or group of parties that received at least 25% of the votes.[86] This law applied in the elections of 6 April 1924. The national alliance, consisting of Fascists, most of the old Liberals and others, won 64% of the vote.

The assassination of the socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti, who had requested that the elections be annulled because of the irregularities,[87] provoked a momentary crisis in the Mussolini government. Mussolini ordered a cover-up, but witnesses saw the car that transported Matteotti's body parked outside Matteotti's residence, which linked Amerigo Dumini to the murder.

Mussolini later confessed that a few resolute men could have altered public opinion and started a coup that would have swept fascism away.

The opposition parties responded weakly or were generally unresponsive.

On 31 December 1924, MVSN consuls met with Mussolini and gave him an ultimatum: crush the opposition or they would do so without him. Fearing a revolt by his own militants, Mussolini decided to drop all pretense of democracy.[88] On 3 January 1925, Mussolini made a truculent speech before the Chamber in which he took responsibility for squadristi violence (though he did not mention the assassination of Matteotti).[89] He did not abolish the squadristi until 1927, however.[24]

Fascist Italy


German-American historian Konrad Jarausch has argued that Mussolini was responsible for an integrated suite of political innovations that made fascism a powerful force in Europe. First, he went beyond the vague promise of future national renewal, and proved the movement could actually seize power and operate a comprehensive government in a major country along fascist lines. Second, the movement claimed to represent the entire national community, not a fragment such as the working class or the aristocracy. He made a significant effort to include the previously alienated Catholic element. He defined public roles for the main sectors of the business community rather than allowing it to operate backstage. Third, he developed a cult of one-man leadership that focused media attention and national debate on his own personality. As a former journalist, Mussolini proved highly adept at exploiting all forms of mass media, including such new forms as motion pictures and radio. Fourth, he created a mass membership party, with free programs for young men, young women, and various other groups who could therefore be more readily mobilized and monitored. He shut down all alternative political formations and parties (but this step was not an innovation by any means). Like all dictators he made liberal use of the threat of extrajudicial violence, as well as actual violence by his Blackshirts, to frighten his opposition.[90]

Between 1925 and 1927, Mussolini progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power and built a police state. A law passed on 24 December 1925—Christmas Eve for the largely Roman Catholic country—changed Mussolini's formal title from "President of the Council of Ministers" to "Head of the Government", although he was still called "Prime Minister" by most non-Italian news sources. He was no longer responsible to Parliament and could be removed only by the King. While the Italian constitution stated that ministers were responsible only to the sovereign, in practice it had become all but impossible to govern against the express will of Parliament. The Christmas Eve law ended this practice, and also made Mussolini the only person competent to determine the body's agenda. This law transformed Mussolini's government into a de facto legal dictatorship. Local autonomy was abolished, and podestàs appointed by the Italian Senate replaced elected mayors and councils.

On 7 April 1926, Mussolini survived a first assassination attempt by Violet Gibson, an Irish woman and daughter of Lord Ashbourne, who was deported after her arrest.[91] On 31 October 1926, 15-year-old Anteo Zamboni attempted to shoot Mussolini in Bologna. Zamboni was lynched on the spot.[92][93] Mussolini also survived a failed assassination attempt in Rome by anarchist Gino Lucetti,[94] and a planned attempt by the Italian anarchist Michele Schirru,[95] which ended with Schirru's capture and execution.[96]

All other parties were outlawed following Zamboni's assassination attempt in 1926, though in practice Italy had been a one-party state since 1925 (with either his January speech to the Chamber or the passage of the Christmas Eve law, depending on the source). In the same year, an electoral law abolished parliamentary elections. Instead, the Grand Council of Fascism selected a single list of candidates to be approved by plebiscite. The Grand Council had been created five years earlier as a party body but was "constitutionalized" and became the highest constitutional authority in the state. On paper, the Grand Council had the power to recommend Mussolini's removal from office, and was thus theoretically the only check on his power. However, only Mussolini could summon the Grand Council and determine its agenda. To gain control of the South, especially Sicily, he appointed Cesare Mori as a Prefect of the city of Palermo, with the charge of eradicating the Mafia at any price. In the telegram, Mussolini wrote to Mori:

Mori did not hesitate to lay siege to towns, using torture, and holding women and children as hostages to oblige suspects to give themselves up.

In 1919, the Italian state had brought in a series of liberal reforms in Libya that allowed education in Arabic and Berber and allowed for the possibility that the Libyans might become Italian citizens.[99] Giuseppe Volpi, who had been appointed governor in 1921 was retained by Mussolini, and withdrew all of the measures offering equality to the Libyans.[99] A policy of confiscating land from the Libyans to hand over to Italian colonists gave new vigor to Libyan resistance led by Omar Mukhtar, and during the ensuing "Pacification of Libya", the Fascist regime waged a near-genocidal campaign designed to kill as many Libyans as possible.[99] Well over half the population of Cyrenaica were confined to 15 concentration camps by 1931 while the Royal Italian Air Force staged chemical warfare attacks against the Bedouin.[99] On 20 June 1930, Marshal Pietro Badoglio wrote to General Rodolfo Graziani:

On 3 January 1933, Mussolini told the diplomat Baron Pompei Aloisi that the French in Tunisia had made an "appalling blunder" by permitting sex between the French and the Tunisians, which he predicted would lead to the French degenerating into a nation of "half-castes", and to prevent the same thing happening to the Italians gave orders to Marshal Badoglio that miscegenation be made a crime in Libya.[102]

Mussolini launched several public construction programs and government initiatives throughout Italy to combat economic setbacks or unemployment levels.

Mussolini also initiated the "Battle for Land", a policy based on land reclamation outlined in 1928. The initiative had a mixed success; while projects such as the draining of the Pontine Marsh in 1935 for agriculture were good for propaganda purposes, provided work for the unemployed and allowed for great land owners to control subsidies, other areas in the Battle for Land were not very successful. This program was inconsistent with the Battle for Wheat (small plots of land were inappropriately allocated for large-scale wheat production), and the Pontine Marsh was lost during World War II. Fewer than 10,000 peasants resettled on the redistributed land, and peasant poverty remained high. The Battle for Land initiative was abandoned in 1940.

In 1930, in the Doctrine of Fascism he wrote, "The so-called crisis can only be settled by State action and within the orbit of the State."[104] He tried to combat economic recession by introducing a "Gold for the Fatherland" initiative, encouraging the public to voluntarily donate gold jewelry to government officials in exchange for steel wristbands bearing the words "Gold for the Fatherland". Even Rachele Mussolini donated her wedding ring. The collected gold was melted down and turned into gold bars, which were then distributed to the national banks.

Government control of business was part of Mussolini's policy planning.

In 1943, Mussolini proposed the theory of economic socialization.

Mussolini was keen to take the credit for major public works in Italy, particularly the railway system.[106] His reported overhauling of the railway network led to the popular saying, "Say what you like about Mussolini, he made the trains run on time."[106] Kenneth Roberts, journalist and novelist, wrote in 1924:

In fact, the improvement in Italy's dire post-war railway system had begun before Mussolini took power.[106][108] The improvement was also more apparent than real. Bergen Evans wrote in 1954:

George Seldes wrote in 1936 that although the express trains carrying tourists generally—though not always—ran on schedule, the same was not true for the smaller lines, where delays were frequent,[106] while Ruth Ben-Ghiat has said that "they improved the lines that had a political meaning to them".[109]

Mussolini's foremost priority was the subjugation of the minds of the Italian people through the use of propaganda. The regime promoted a lavish cult of personality centered on the figure of Mussolini. He pretended to incarnate the new fascist Übermensch, promoting an aesthetic of exasperated Machism that attributed to him quasi-divine capacities.[110] At various times after 1922, Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, colonies, corporations, defense, and 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 and the armed local fascist militia, the MVSN or "Blackshirts", who terrorized incipient resistance in the cities and provinces. He would later form the OVRA, an institutionalized secret police that carried official state support. In this way he succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival.

Mussolini also portrayed himself as a valiant sportsman and a skilled musician.

Large sums of money were spent on highly visible public works and on international prestige projects.

The principles of the doctrine of Fascism were laid down in an article by eminent philosopher Giovanni Gentile and Mussolini himself that appeared in 1932 in the Enciclopedia Italiana. Mussolini always portrayed himself as an intellectual, and some historians agree.[111] Gunther called him "easily the best educated and most sophisticated of the dictators", and the only national leader of 1940 who was an intellectual.[24] German historian Ernst Nolte said that "His command of contemporary philosophy and political literature was at least as great as that of any other contemporary European political leader."[112]

Nationalists in the years after World War I thought of themselves as combating the liberal and domineering institutions created by cabinets—such as those of Giovanni Giolitti, including traditional schooling. Futurism, a revolutionary cultural movement which would serve as a catalyst for Fascism, argued for "a school for physical courage and patriotism", as expressed by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1919. Marinetti expressed his disdain for "the by now prehistoric and troglodyte Ancient Greek and Latin courses", arguing for their replacement with exercise modelled on those of the Arditi soldiers ("[learning] to advance on hands and knees in front of razing machine gun fire; to wait open-eyed for a crossbeam to move sideways over their heads etc."). It was in those years that the first Fascist youth wings were formed: Avanguardia Giovanile Fascista (Fascist Youth Vanguards) in 1919, and Gruppi Universitari Fascisti (Fascist University Groups) in 1922.

After the March on Rome that brought Mussolini to power, the Fascists started considering ways to politicize Italian society, with an accent on education.

According to Mussolini: "Fascist education is moral, physical, social, and military: it aims to create a complete and harmoniously developed human, a fascist one according to our views".

The "educational value set through action and example" was to replace the established approaches.

Another important constituent of the Fascist cultural policy was Roman Catholicism. In 1929, a concordat with the Vatican was signed, ending decades of struggle between the Italian state and the Papacy that dated back to the 1870 takeover of the Papal States by the House of Savoy during the unification of Italy. The Lateran treaties, 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, were so much appreciated by the ecclesiastic hierarchy that Pope Pius XI acclaimed Mussolini as "the Man of Providence".[113]

The 1929 treaty included a legal provision whereby the Italian government would protect the honor and dignity of the Pope by prosecuting offenders.[114] In 1927, Mussolini was re-baptized by a Roman Catholic priest. After 1929, Mussolini, with his anti-Communist doctrines, convinced many Catholics to actively support him.

In foreign policy, Mussolini was pragmatic and opportunistic.

In his early years in power, Mussolini operated as a pragmatic statesman, trying to achieve some advantages, but never at the risk of war with Britain and France.

After Adolf Hitler came into power, threatening Italian interests in Austria and the Danube basin, Mussolini proposed the Four Power Pact with Britain, France and Germany in 1933. When the Austrian 'austro-fascist' Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss with dictatorial power was assassinated on 25 July 1934 by National-Socialist supporters, Mussolini even threatened Germany with war in the event of a German invasion of Austria. Mussolini for a period of time continued strictly opposing any German attempt to obtain Anschluss and promoted the ephemeral Stresa Front against Germany in 1935.

Despite Mussolini's imprisonment for opposing the Italo-Turkish War in Africa as "nationalist delirium tremens" and "a miserable war of conquest",[24] after the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–1936, in the Second Italo–Ethiopian War Italy invaded Ethiopia following border incidents occasioned by Italian inclusions over the vaguely drawn border between Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. Historians are still divided about the reasons for the attack on Ethiopia in 1935. Some Italian historians such as Franco Catalano and Giorgio Rochat argue that the invasion was an act of social imperialism, contending that the Great Depression had badly damaged Mussolini's prestige, and that he needed a foreign war to distract public opinion.[117] Other historians such as Pietro Pastorelli have argued that the invasion was launched as part of an expansionist program to make Italy the main power in the Red Sea area and the Middle East.[117] A middle way interpretation was offered by the American historian MacGregor Knox, who argued that the war was started for both foreign and domestic reasons, being both a part of Mussolini's long-range expansionist plans and intended to give Mussolini a foreign policy triumph that would allow him to push the Fascist system in a more radical direction at home.[117] Italy's forces were far superior to the Abyssinian forces, especially in air power, and they were soon victorious. Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee the country, with Italy entering the capital city, Addis Ababa to proclaim an empire by May 1936, making Ethiopia part of Italian East Africa.[122]

Confident of having been given free hand by French Premier Pierre Laval, and certain that the British and French would be forgiving because of his opposition to Hitler's revisionism within the Stresa front, Mussolini received with disdain the League of Nations' economic sanctions imposed on Italy by initiative of London and Paris.[123]Study%20o]]n Mussolini's view, the move was a typically hypocritical action carried out by decaying imperial powers that intended to prevent the natural expansion of younger and poorer nations like Italy., the Scramble for Africa had finished by the beginning of the twentieth century. The international mood was now against colonialist expansion and Italy's actions were condemned. Furthermore, Italy was criticized for its use of mustard gas and phosgene against its enemies and also for its zero tolerance approach to enemy guerrillas, authorized by Mussolini.[122] Between 1936 and 1941 during operations to "pacify" Ethiopia, the Italians killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian civilians, and are estimated to have killed about 7% of Ethiopia's total population.[120] Mussolini ordered Marshal Rodolfo Graziani "to initiate and systematically conduct a policy of terror and extermination against the rebels and the population in complicity with them. Without a policy of ten eyes to one, we cannot heal this wound in good time".[80] Mussolini personally ordered Graziani to execute the entire male population over the age of 18 in one town and in one district ordered that "the prisoners, their accomplices and the uncertain will have to be executed" as part of the "gradual liquidation" of the population.[80] Believing the Eastern Orthodox Church was inspiring Ethiopians to resist, Mussolini ordered that Orthodox priests and monks were to be targeted in revenge for guerrilla attacks.[80] Mussolini brought in Degree Law 880, which made miscegenation a crime punishable with five years in prison as Mussolini made it absolutely clear that he did not want his soldiers and officials serving in Ethiopia to ever have sex with Ethiopian women under any circumstances as he believed that multiracial relationships made his men less likely to kill Ethiopians.[80] Mussolini favored a policy of brutality partly because he believed the Ethiopians were not a nation because black people were too stupid to have a sense of nationality and therefore the guerrillas were just "bandits".[80] The other reason was because Mussolini was planning on bringing millions of Italian colonists into Ethiopia and he needed to kill off much of the Ethiopian population to make room for the Italian colonists just as he had done in Libya.[80]

The sanctions against Italy were used by Mussolini as a pretext for an alliance with Germany.

On 11 July 1936, an Austro-German treaty was signed under which Austria declared itself to be a "German state" whose foreign policy would always be aligned with Berlin, and allowed for pro-Nazis to enter the Austrian cabinet.[128] Mussolini had applied strong pressure on the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to sign the treaty in order to improve his relations with Hitler.[128] After the sanctions against Italy ended in July 1936, the French tried hard to revive the Stresa Front, displaying what Sullivan called "an almost humiliating determination to retain Italy as an ally".[120] In January 1937, Britain signed a "Gentleman's Agreement" with Mussolini intended to limit Italian intervention in Spain, and was seen by the British Foreign Office as the first step towards creating an Anglo-Italian alliance.[128] In April 1938, Britain and Italy signed the Easter Accords under which Britain promised to recognise Ethiopia as Italian in exchange for Italy pulling out of the Spanish Civil War. The Foreign Office understood that it was the Spanish Civil War that was pulling Rome and Berlin closer together, and believed if Mussolini could be persuaded to disengage from Spain, then he would return to the Allied camp. To get Mussolini out of Spain, the British were prepared to pay such prices such as recognising King Victor Emmanuel III as Emperor of Ethiopia. The American historian Barry Sullivan wrote that both the British and the French very much wanted a rapprochment with Italy to undo the damage caused by the League of Nations sanctions, and that "Mussolini chose to ally with Hitler, rather than being forced…"[120]

Reflecting the new pro-German foreign policy on 25 October 1936, Mussolini agreed to form a Rome-Berlin Axis, sanctioned by a cooperation agreement with Nazi Germany and signed in Berlin. Furthermore, the conquest of Ethiopia cost the lives of 12,000 Italians and another 4,000 to 5,000 Libyans, Eritreans, and Somalis fighting in Italian service.[120] Mussolini believed that conquering Ethiopia would cost 4 to 6 billion lire, but the true costs of the invasion proved to be 33.5 billion lire.[120] The economic costs of the conquest proved to be a staggering blow to the Italian budget, and seriously retarded Italian efforts at military modernization as the money that Mussolini had earmarked for military modernization was instead spent in conquering Ethiopia, something that helped to drive Mussolini towards Germany.[120] To help cover the huge debts run up during the Ethiopian war, Mussolini devalued the lire by 40% in October 1936.[120] Furthermore, the costs of occupying Ethiopia was to cost the Italian treasury another 21.1 billion lire between 1936–1940.[120] Additionally, Italy was to lose 4,000 men killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War while Italian intervention in Spain cost Italy another 12 to 14 billion lire.[120] In the years 1938 and 1939, the Italian government took in 39.9 billion lire in taxes while the entire Italian gross national product was 153 billion lire, which meant the Ethiopian and Spanish wars imposed economically crippling costs on Italy.[120] Only 28% of the entire military Italian budgets between 1934–39 was spent on military modernization with the rest all being consumed by Mussolini's wars, which led to a rapid decline in Italian military power.[120] Between 1935–39, Mussolini's wars cost Italy the equivalent of $500 US billion dollars in 1999 values, a sum that was even proportionally a larger burden given that Italy was such a poor country.[120] The 1930s were a time of rapid advances in military technology, and Sullivan wrote that Mussolini picked exactly the wrong time to fight his wars in Ethiopia and Spain.[120] At the same time that the Italian military was falling behind the other great powers, a full scale arms race had broken out, with Germany, Britain and France spending increasingly large sums of money on their militaries as the 1930s advanced, a situation that Mussolini privately admitted seriously limited Italy's ability to fight a major war on its own, and thus required a great power ally to compensate for increasing Italian military backwardness.[120]

From 1936 through 1939, Mussolini provided huge amounts of military support to the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This active intervention on the side of Franco further distanced Italy from France and Britain. As a result, Mussolini's relationship with Adolf Hitler became closer, and he chose to accept the German annexation of Austria in 1938, followed by the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1939. In May 1938, during Hitler's visit to Italy, Mussolini told the Führer that Italy and France were deadly enemies fighting on "opposite sides of the barricade" concerning the Spanish Civil War, and the Stresa Front was "dead and buried".[120] At the Munich Conference in September 1938, Mussolini continued to pose as a moderate working for European peace, while helping Nazi Germany annex the Sudetenland. The 1936 Axis agreement with Germany was strengthened by signing the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939, that bound together Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in a full military alliance.

Members of TIGR, a Slovene anti-fascist group, plotted to kill Mussolini in Kobarid in 1938, but their attempt was unsuccessful.

World War II


By the late 1930s, Mussolini's obsession with demography led him to conclude that Britain and France were finished as powers, and that it was Germany and Italy who were destined to rule Europe if for no other reason than their demographic strength.[136] Mussolini stated his belief that declining birth rates in France were "absolutely horrifying" and that the British Empire was doomed because one-quarter of the British population was over 50.[136] As such, Mussolini believed that an alliance with Germany was preferable to an alignment with Britain and France as it was better to be allied with the strong instead of the weak.[137] Mussolini saw international relations as a Social Darwinian struggle between "virile" nations with high birth rates that were destined to destroy "effete" nations with low birth rates. Mussolini believed that France was a "weak and old" nation as the French weekly death rate exceeded the birthrate by 2,000, and he had no interest in an alliance with France.[80]

Such was the extent of Mussolini's belief that it was Italy's destino to rule the Mediterranean because of Italy's high birth rate that he neglected much of the serious planning and preparations necessary for a war with the Western powers.[128] The only arguments that held Mussolini back from full alignment with Berlin were his awareness of Italy's economic and military weakness, meaning he required further time to rearm, and his desire to use the Easter Accords of April 1938 as a way of splitting Britain from France.[140] A military alliance with Germany as opposed to the already existing looser political alliance with the Reich under the Anti-Comintern Pact (which had no military commitments) would end any chance of Britain implementing the Easter Accords.[141] The Easter Accords in turn were intended by Mussolini to allow Italy to take on France alone by sufficiently improving Anglo-Italian relations that London would presumably remain neutral in the event of a Franco-Italian war (Mussolini had imperial designs on Tunisia, and had some support in that country[142] ).[141] In turn, the Easter Accords were intended by Britain to win Italy away from Germany.

Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and Foreign Minister, summed up the dictator's foreign policy objectives regarding France in an entry of his diary dated 8 November 1938: Djibouti would have to be ruled in common with France; "Tunisia, with a more or less similar regime; Corsica, Italian and never Frenchified and therefore under our direct control, the border at the river Var."[143] As for Savoy, which was not "historically or geographically Italian", Mussolini claimed that he was not interested in it. On 30 November 1938, Mussolini invited the French ambassador André François-Poncet to attend the opening of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, during which the assembled deputies, at his cue, began to demonstrate loudly against France, shouting that Italy should annex "Tunis, Nice, Corsica, Savoy!", which was followed by the deputies marching into the street carrying signs demanding that France turn over Tunisia, Savoy, and Corsica to Italy.[80] The French Premier Édouard Daladier promptly rejected the Italian demands for territorial concessions, and for much of the winter of 1938–39, France and Italy were on the verge of war.[80]

In January 1939, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Rome, during which visit Mussolini learned that though Britain very much wanted better relations with Italy, and was prepared to make concessions, it would not sever all ties with France for the sake of an improved Anglo-Italian relationship.[146] With that, Mussolini grew more interested in the German offer of a military alliance, which had first been made in May 1938.[146] In February 1939, Mussolini gave a speech before the Fascist Grand Council, during which he proclaimed his belief that a state's power is "proportional to its maritime position" and that Italy was a "prisoner in the Mediterranean and the more populous and powerful Italy becomes, the more it will suffer from its imprisonment. The bars of this prison are Corsica, Tunisia, Malta, Cyprus: the sentinels of this prison are Gibraltar and Suez".[128]

The new course was not without its critics.

Hitler was intent on invading Poland, though Ciano warned this would likely lead to war with the Allies.

As World War II began, Ciano and Viscount Halifax were holding secret phone conversations. The British wanted Italy on their side against Germany as it had been in World War I.[151] French government opinion was more geared towards action against Italy, as they were eager to attack Italy in Libya. In September 1939, France swung to the opposite extreme, offering to discuss issues with Italy, but as the French were unwilling to discuss Corsica, Nice and Savoy, Mussolini did not answer.[151] Mussolini's Under-Secretary for War Production, Carlo Favagrossa, had estimated that Italy could not be prepared for major military operations until 1942 due to its relatively weak industrial sector compared to western Europe.[153] In late November 1939, Adolf Hitler declared: "So long as the Duce lives, one can rest assured that Italy will seize every opportunity to achieve its imperialistic aims."[151]

Convinced that the war would soon be over, with a German victory looking likely at that point, Mussolini decided to enter the war on the Axis side.

Italy joined the Germans in the Battle of France, fighting the fortified Alpine Line at the border. Just eleven days later, France and Germany signed an armistice. Included in Italian-controlled France were most of Nice and other southeastern counties.[154] Meanwhile, in Africa, Mussolini's Italian East Africa forces attacked the British in their Sudan, Kenya and British Somaliland colonies, in what would become known as the East African Campaign.[156] British Somaliland was conquered and became part of Italian East Africa on 3 August 1940, and there were Italian advances in the Sudan and Kenya.[157]

In September 1940, the Italian Tenth Army was commanded by General Rodolfo Graziani and crossed from Italian Libya into Egypt, where British forces were located; this would become the Western Desert Campaign. Advances were successful, but the Italians stopped at Sidi Barrani waiting for logistic supplies to catch up. On 24 October 1940, Mussolini sent the Italian Air Corps to Belgium, where it took part in the Blitz until January 1941.[158] In October, Mussolini also sent Italian forces into Greece, starting the Greco-Italian War. After initial success, this backfired as the Greek counterattack proved relentless, resulting in Italy losing one-quarter of Albania.

Events in Africa had changed by early 1941 as Operation Compass had forced the Italians back into Libya, causing high losses in the Italian Army.[159] Also in the East African Campaign, an attack was mounted against Italian forces. Despite putting up a resistance, they were overwhelmed at the Battle of Keren, and the Italian defense started to crumble with a final defeat in the Battle of Gondar. When addressing the Italian public on the events, Mussolini was completely open about the situation, saying "We call bread bread and wine wine, and when the enemy wins a battle it is useless and ridiculous to seek, as the English do in their incomparable hypocrisy, to deny or diminish it."[160] Part of his comment was in relation to earlier success the Italians had in Africa, before being defeated by an Allied force later. In danger of losing the control of all Italian possessions in North Africa, Germany finally sent the Afrika Korps to support Italy. Meanwhile, Operation Marita took place in Yugoslavia to end the Greco-Italian War, resulting in an Axis victory and the Occupation of Greece by Italy and Germany.

General Mario Robotti, Commander of the Italian 11th division in Slovenia and Croatia, issued an order in line with a directive received from Mussolini in June 1942: "I would not be opposed to all (sic) Slovenes being imprisoned and replaced by Italians. In other words, we should take steps to ensure that political and ethnic frontiers coincide".[161]

Mussolini first learned of Operation Barbarossa after the invasion of Soviet Union had begun on 22 June 1941, and was not asked by Hitler to involve himself.[162] Mussolini took the initiative in ordering an Italian Army Corps to head to the Eastern Front, where he hoped that Italy might score an easy victory to restore the Fascist regime's luster, which had been damaged by defeats in Greece and North Africa. On 25 June 1941, he inspected the first units at Verona, which served as his launching pad to Russia.[163] Mussolini told the Council of Ministers of 5 July that his only worry was that Germany might defeat the Soviet Union before the Italians arrived.[164] At a meeting with Hitler in August, Mussolini offered and Hitler accepted the commitment of further Italian troops to fight the Soviet Union.[165] The heavy losses suffered by the Italians on the Eastern Front, where service was extremely unpopular owing to the widespread view that this was not Italy's fight, did much to damage Mussolini's prestige with the Italian people.[165] After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941.[166] A piece of evidence regarding Mussolini's response to the attack on Pearl Harbor comes from the diary of his Foreign Minister Ciano:

By early 1942, Italy's military position had become untenable.

Earlier in April 1943, Mussolini had begged Hitler to make a separate peace with Stalin and send German troops to the west to guard against an expected Allied invasion of Italy.

By this point, some prominent members of Mussolini's government had turned against him.

Despite this sharp rebuke, Mussolini showed up for work the next day as usual.

In an effort to conceal his location from the Germans, Mussolini was moved around before being imprisoned at Campo Imperatore, a mountain resort in Abruzzo where he was completely isolated. Badoglio kept up the appearance of loyalty to Germany, and announced that Italy would continue fighting on the side of the Axis. However, he dissolved the Fascist Party two days after taking over and began negotiating an Armistice with the Allies, which was signed on 3 September 1943. Its announcement five days later threw Italy into chaos; German troops rushed in to take over Italy in Operation Achse. As the Germans approached Rome, Badoglio and the king fled Rome, leaving the Italian Army without orders.[173] After a period of anarchy, Italy finally declared war on Nazi Germany on 13 October 1943 from Malta; thousands of troops were supplied to fight against the Germans, while others refused to switch sides and had joined the Germans. The Badoglio government held a political truce with the leftist partisans for the sake of Italy and to rid the land of the Nazis.[174]

Only two months after Mussolini had been dismissed and arrested, he was rescued from his prison at the Hotel Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso raid on 12 September 1943 by a special Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) unit and Waffen-SS commandos led by Major Otto-Harald Mors; Otto Skorzeny was also present.[172] The rescue saved Mussolini from being turned over to the Allies in accordance with the armistice.[174] Hitler had made plans to arrest the king, Crown Prince Umberto, Badoglio, and the rest of the government and restore Mussolini to power in Rome, but the government's escape south likely foiled those plans.[170]

Three days following his rescue in the Gran Sasso raid, Mussolini was taken to Germany for a meeting with Hitler in Rastenburg at his East Prussian headquarters. Despite public professions of support, Hitler was clearly shocked by Mussolini's disheveled and haggard appearance as well as his unwillingness to go after the men in Rome who overthrew him. Feeling that he had to do what he could to blunt the edges of Nazi repression, Mussolini agreed to set up a new regime, the Italian Social Republic (Italian: Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI),[12] informally known as the Salò Republic because of its administration from the town of Salò where he settled 11 days after his rescue by the Germans. Mussolini's new regime faced numerous territorial losses: in addition to losing the Italian lands held by the Allies and Badoglio's government, the provinces of Bolzano, Belluno and Trento were placed under German administration in the Operational Zone of the Alpine Foothills, while the provinces of Udine, Gorizia, Trieste, Pola (now Pula), Fiume (now Rijeka) and Ljubljana (Lubiana in Italian) were incorporated into the German Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral.[175][176]

In addition, the German army occupied the Dalmatian provinces of Split (Spalato) and Kotor (Cattaro), which were subsequently annexed by the Croatian fascist regime. Italy's gains in Greece and Albania were also lost to Germany, with the exception of the Italian Aegean Islands, which remained nominally under RSI rule.[177] Mussolini opposed any territorial reductions of the Italian state and told his associates:

For about a year and a half, Mussolini lived in Gargnano on Lake Garda in Lombardy. Although he insisted in public that he was in full control, he knew that he was merely a puppet ruler under the protection of his German liberators—for all intents and purposes, the Gauleiter of Lombardy.[170] Indeed, he lived under what amounted to house arrest by the SS, who restricted his communications and travel. He told one of his colleagues that being sent to a concentration camp was preferable to his puppet status.[171]

After yielding to pressures from Hitler and the remaining loyal fascists who formed the government of the Republic of Salò, Mussolini helped orchestrate a series of executions of some of the fascist leaders who had betrayed him at the last meeting of the Fascist Grand Council.

Death


On 25 April 1945, allied troops were advancing into northern Italy, and the collapse of the Salò Republic was imminent.

The next day, Mussolini and Petacci were both summarily shot, along with most of the members of their 15-man train, primarily ministers and officials of the Italian Social Republic. The shootings took place in the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra and were conducted by a partisan leader who used the nom de guerre Colonnello Valerio. His real identity is unknown, but conventionally he is thought to have been Walter Audisio, who always claimed to have carried out the execution, though another partisan controversially alleged that Colonnello Valerio was Luigi Longo, subsequently a leading communist politician in post-war Italy.[182][183] Mussolini was killed two days before Hitler and his wife Eva Braun committed suicide. The RSI only survived for another four days before Mussolini's defence minister, Rodolfo Graziani–the lone Italian marshal who remained loyal to Fascism after 1943–surrendered its remains on 1 May.

On 29 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci, and the other executed Fascists were loaded into a van and moved south to Milan. At 3:00 am, the corpses were dumped on the ground in the old Piazzale Loreto. The piazza had been renamed "Piazza Quindici Martiri" in honor of fifteen anti-Fascists recently executed there.[184]

After being kicked and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station.[185] The bodies were then stoned from below by civilians. This was done both to discourage any Fascists from continuing the fight, and as an act of revenge for the hanging of many partisans in the same place by Axis authorities. The corpse of the deposed leader was subject to ridicule and abuse. Fascist loyalist Achille Starace was captured and sentenced to death and then taken to the Piazzale Loreto and shown the body of Mussolini. Starace, who once said of Mussolini "He is a god,"[186] saluted what was left of his leader just before he was shot. The body of Starace was subsequently hung up next to that of Mussolini.

After his death and the display of his corpse in Milan, Mussolini was buried in an unmarked grave in the Musocco cemetery, to the north of the city. On Easter Sunday 1946, his body was located and dug up by Domenico Leccisi and two other neo-Fascists.

On the loose for months—and a cause of great anxiety to the new Italian democracy—Mussolini's body was finally "recaptured" in August, hidden in a small trunk at the Certosa di Pavia, just outside Milan. Two Fransciscan brothers were subsequently charged with concealing the corpse, though it was discovered on further investigation that it had been constantly on the move. Unsure what to do, the authorities held the remains in a kind of political limbo for ten years, before agreeing to allow them to be re-interred at Predappio in Romagna, his birthplace. Adone Zoli, the then-current prime minister, contacted Donna Rachele, the dictator's widow, to tell her he was returning the remains, as he needed the support of the far-right in parliament, including Leccisi himself. In Predappio the dictator 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 him is above the tomb.[187]

Personal life


Mussolini's first wife was Ida Dalser, whom he married in Trento in 1914. The couple had a son the following year and named him Benito Albino Mussolini. In December 1915, Mussolini married Rachele Guidi, who had been his mistress since 1910. Due to his upcoming political ascendency, the information about his first marriage was suppressed, and both his first wife and son were later persecuted.[62] With Rachele, Mussolini had two daughters, Edda (1910–1995) and Anna Maria (1929–1968), the latter of whom married in Ravenna on 11 June 1960 to Nando Pucci Negri; and three sons: Vittorio (1916–1997), Bruno (1918–1941) and Romano (1927–2006). Mussolini had several mistresses, among them Margherita Sarfatti and his final companion, Clara Petacci. Mussolini had many brief sexual encounters with female supporters, as reported by his biographer Nicholas Farrell.[188]

Imprisonment may have been the cause of Mussolini's claustrophobia. He refused to enter the Blue Grotto (a sea cave on the coast of Capri), and preferred large rooms like his 60 by 40 by 40 feet (18 by 12 by 12 m) office at the Palazzo Venezia.[24]

Religious views


Mussolini was raised by a devoutly Catholic mother[189] and an anti-clerical father.[190] His mother Rosa had him baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, and took her children to services every Sunday. His father never attended.[189] Mussolini regarded his time at a religious boarding school as punishment, compared the experience to hell, and "once refused to go to morning Mass and had to be dragged there by force."[191]

Mussolini became anti-clerical like his father.

Mussolini was an admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Denis Mack Smith, "In Nietzsche he found justification for his crusade against the Christian virtues of humility, resignation, charity, and goodness."[193] He valued Nietzsche's concept of the superman, "The supreme egoist who defied both God and the masses, who despised egalitarianism and democracy, who believed in the weakest going to the wall and pushing them if they did not go fast enough."[193] On his 60th birthday, Mussolini received a gift from Hitler of a complete twenty-four volume set of the works of Nietzsche.[194]

Mussolini made vitriolic attacks against Christianity and the Catholic Church, which he accompanied with provocative remarks about the consecrated host, and about a love affair between Christ and Mary Magdalene. He denounced socialists who were tolerant of religion, or who had their children baptized, and called for socialists who accepted religious marriage to be expelled from the party. He denounced the Catholic Church for "its authoritarianism and refusal to allow freedom of thought..." Mussolini's newspaper, La Lotta di Classe, reportedly had an anti-Christian editorial stance.[195]

Despite making such attacks, Mussolini tried to win popular support by appeasing the Catholic majority in Italy.

After this conciliation, he claimed the Church was subordinate to the State, and "referred to Catholicism as, in origin, a minor sect that had spread beyond Palestine only because grafted onto the organization of the Roman empire."[197] After the concordat, "he confiscated more issues of Catholic newspapers in the next three months than in the previous seven years."[197] Mussolini reportedly came close to being excommunicated from the Catholic Church around this time.[197]

Mussolini publicly reconciled with the Pope Pius XI in 1932, but "took care to exclude from the newspapers any photography of himself kneeling or showing deference to the Pope."[197] He wanted to persuade Catholics that "[f]ascism was Catholic and he himself a believer who spent some of each day in prayer..."[197] The Pope began referring to Mussolini as "a man sent by Providence."[195][197] Despite Mussolini's efforts to appear pious, by order of his party, pronouns referring to him "had to be capitalized like those referring to God..."[197]

In 1938 Mussolini began reasserting his anti-clericalism.

After his fall from power in 1943, Mussolini began speaking "more about God and the obligations of conscience", although "he still had little use for the priests and sacraments of the Church".[202] He also began drawing parallels between himself and Jesus Christ.[202] Mussolini's widow, Rachele, stated that her husband had remained "basically irreligious until the later years of his life".[203] Mussolini was given a Catholic funeral in 1957.[204]

Mussolini's views on antisemitism and race


Although Mussolini had initially disregarded biological racism, he was a firm believer in national traits and made several generalizations about the Jews.[205]Jews%20in%20Italy%20Under%20F]]evertheless, Mussolini considered Italian Jews to be Italians. re belief in them.[205] Mussolini blamed the Russian Revolution of 1917 on "Jewish vengeance" against Christianity with the remark "Race does not betray race... Bolshevism is being defended by the international plutocracy. That is the real truth."[205] Yet, within a few weeks, he contradicted himself with the remark "Bolshevism is not, as people believe, a Jewish phenomenon. The truth is that Bolshevism is leading to the utter ruin of the Jews of Eastern Europe."[205]

In the early 1920s, Mussolini stated that Fascism would never raise a "Jewish Question" and in an article he wrote he stated "Italy knows no antisemitism and we believe that it will never know it," and then elaborated, "let us hope that Italian Jews will continue to be sensible enough so as not to give rise to antisemitism in the only country where it has never existed."[206] In 1932, Mussolini during a conversation with Emil Ludwig described antisemitism as a "German vice" and stated that "There was 'no Jewish Question' in Italy and could not be one in a country with a healthy system of government."[207] On several occasions, Mussolini spoke positively about Jews and the Zionist movement,[208] although Fascism remained suspicious of Zionism after the Fascist Party gained power.[209] In 1934, Mussolini supported the establishment of the Betar Naval Academy in Civitavecchia to train Zionist cadets under the direction of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, arguing that a Jewish state would be in Italy's interest.[210] Until 1938 Mussolini had denied any antisemitism within the Fascist Party.[208]

The relationship between Mussolini and Adolf Hitler was a contentious one early on.

With the assassination of Dollfuss, Mussolini attempted to distance himself from Hitler by rejecting much of the racialism (particularly Nordicism and Germanicism) and antisemitism espoused by the German radical. Mussolini during this period rejected biological racism, at least in the Nazi sense, and instead emphasized "Italianizing" the parts of the Italian Empire he had desired to build.[212] He declared that the ideas of eugenics and the racially charged concept of an Aryan nation were not possible.[212] Mussolini dismissed the idea of a master race as "arrant nonsense, stupid and idiotic."[213]

When discussing the Nazi decree that the German people must carry a passport with either Aryan or Jewish racial affiliation marked on it, in 1934, Mussolini wondered how they would designate membership in the "Germanic race":

When German-Jewish journalist Emil Ludwig asked about his views on race in 1933, Mussolini exclaimed:

In a speech given in Bari in 1934, he reiterated his attitude towards the German ideology of Master race:

Though Italian Fascism varied its official positions on race from the 1920s to 1934, ideologically Italian fascism did not originally discriminate against the Italian-Jewish community: Mussolini recognised that a small contingent had lived there "since the days of the Kings of Rome" and should "remain undisturbed".[219] There were even some Jews in the National Fascist Party, such as Ettore Ovazza, who in 1935 founded the Jewish Fascist paper La Nostra Bandiera ("Our Flag").[220]

By mid-1938, the enormous influence Hitler now had over Mussolini became clear with the introduction of the Manifesto of Race. The Manifesto, which was closely modeled on the Nazi Nuremberg Laws,[88] stripped Jews of their Italian citizenship and with it any position in the government or professions. The racial laws declared Italians to be part of the Aryan race and forbid sexual relations and marriages between Italians and those considered to be of an "inferior race", chiefly Jews and Africans.[221] Jews were not permitted to own or manage companies involved in military production, or factories that employed over one hundred people or exceeded a certain value. They could not own land over a certain value, serve in the armed forces, employ non-Jewish domestics, or belong to the Fascist party. Their employment in banks, insurance companies, and public schools was forbidden.[222]

Even after the introduction of the racial laws, Mussolini continued to make contradictory statements about race.[208] Many high government officials told Jewish representatives that the antisemitism in Fascist Italy would soon be over.[208] Antisemitism was unpopular within the Fascist party; once when a Fascist scholar protested to Mussolini about the treatment of his Jewish friends, Mussolini is reported to have said "I agree with you entirely. I don't believe a bit in the stupid anti-Semitic theory. I am carrying out my policy entirely for political reasons."[223] Hitler felt disappointed with Mussolini's lack of antisemitism.[224]

Mussolini and the Italian Army in occupied regions openly opposed German efforts to deport Italian Jews to Nazi concentration camps.[225] Italy's refusal to comply with German demands of Jewish persecution influenced other countries.[225]

In September 1943 semi-autonomous militarized squads of Fascist fanatics sprouted up throughout the Republic of Salò.

It has been widely speculated that Mussolini adopted the Manifesto of Race in 1938 for merely tactical reasons, to strengthen Italy's relations with Germany.

Mussolini also reached out to the Muslims in his empire and in the predominantly Arab countries of the Middle East.

Legacy


Mussolini was survived by his wife, Rachele Mussolini, two sons, Vittorio and Romano Mussolini, and his daughters Edda (the widow of Count Ciano) and Anna Maria. A third son, Bruno, was killed in an air accident while flying a Piaggio P.108 bomber on a test mission, on 7 August 1941. His oldest son, Benito Albino Mussolini, from his marriage with Ida Dalser, was ordered to stop declaring that Mussolini was his father and in 1935 forcibly committed to an asylum in Milan, where he was murdered on 26 August 1942 after repeated coma-inducing injections.[62] Alessandra Mussolini, daughter of Romano Mussolini, Benito Mussolini's fourth son, and of Anna Maria Scicolone, Sophia Loren's sister, has been a member of the European Parliament for the far-right Social Alternative movement, a deputy in the Italian lower chamber and served in the Senate as a member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

Although the National Fascist Party was outlawed by the postwar Constitution of Italy, a number of successor neo-fascist parties emerged to carry on its legacy. Historically, the largest neo-fascist party was the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano), which disbanded in 1995 and was replaced by National Alliance, a conservative party that distanced itself from Fascism (its founder, former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini, declared during an official visit to Israel that Fascism was "an absolute evil").[230] National Alliance and a number of neo-fascist parties were merged in 2009 to create the short-lived People of Freedom party led by then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which eventually disbanded after the defeat in the 2013 general election.

In popular culture


  • Olaf Stapledon in his SF novel Last and First Men has a future historian give Mussolini's story, though without naming him. Written in 1930, it has Mussolini starting and losing a war with France and then being killed by an angry Italian mob. The book does not predict Hitler.[231]
  • In his 1938 novel The Holy Terror, H.G. Wells predicted Mussolini's execution:

See also


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