Italian political leader who established the fascist regime in Italy (1922-1943). After World War I (1914-1918), the crisis of liberal democracies, aggravated by the economic crash of 1929, favored a phenomenon that would characterize Europe between the two wars: the rise of totalitarianism. Its first manifestation was fascism, denomination that comes from the fasci di combattimento created in 1919 by Benito Mussolini, who seized with the power in 1922 and imposed a dictatorship of unique party. The Italian fascist regime would become the main ally of Adolf Hitler in World War II (1939-1945), and he suffered the same fate after the defeat.
Biography of Benito Mussolini
- Born:- 29 July 1883, Predappio, Italy
- Died:- 28 April 1945, Giulino, Italy
- Movies:- Hundred Days
- Spouse:- Rachele Mussolini (m. 1915–1945), Ida Dalser (m. 1914)
- Children:- Romano Mussolini, Edda Mussolini, Bruno Mussolini
- Previous Offices:- Duce (1924–1943), Prime Minister of Italy (1922–1943)
Son of a humble family (his father was a blacksmith and his mother teacher of school), Benito Mussolini studied magisterium, to whose term it was professor during periods never too long, because it combined the teaching activity with continuous trips. Soon he had problems with the authorities: he was expelled from Switzerland and Austria, where he had initiated contacts with sectors close to the irredentista movement.
In his first political affiliation, however, Mussolini approached the Italian Socialist Party, attracted by its more radical wing. Of socialism, more than its reformatory postulates, seduced the revolutionary slope. In 1910 he was appointed secretary of the provincial federation of Forlì and shortly thereafter he became editor of the weekly La Lotta di Classe (The Class Struggle). The victory of the radical wing over the reformist in the socialist congress of Reggio nell’Emilia, celebrated in 1912, gave him greater prominence within the political formation that took advantage of to take charge of the Milanian newspaper Avanti, official organ of the party. Even so, his views on the armed clashes of the “red week” of 1914 caused some concern among his cohorts, frightened by his radicalism.
The division between Mussolini and the Socialists was compounded by the proclamation of neutrality that launched the party against Italy’s entry into World War I in August 1914. Mussolini, who had been one of the most radical opponents of the Libyan war the participation of Italy in the Great War, suddenly changed of opinion and openly defended a warmongering position, which was worth the expulsion of the Socialist Party. In November of the same year he founded the newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, of ultranationalist tendency. On the hesitations of the Italian parliament regarding the entry into the war, he wrote that “it would have been necessary to shoot half a dozen deputies” to give a “healthy” example to others. In September 1915 he voluntarily enlisted, and served in the army until he was wounded in combat in February 1917.
The Fascists of the Combat and the March on Rome
After the war, and despite being part of the winning alliance, Italy was relegated to irrelevance in the negotiations of peace treaties, which did not grant the country the territories claimed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Benito Mussolini wanted to capitalize on the feeling of dissatisfaction that gripped the Italian society by appealing to the fight against left-wing parties, which he blamed for such a failure. In 1919 he created fasci di combattimento , squadrons or armed groups of agitation that acted almost with total impunity against militants of the left and who were the germ of the future National Fascist Party, founded by the same Mussolini in November of 1921.
In a context marked by collective frustration after the futile sacrifices of the Great War, by the general discredit of the parliamentary regime, by the economic crisis and high social unrest (the growing development of the workers ‘and peasants’ movement, with occupations of factories and lands , troubled the wealthy classes, fearful of social revolution), the fascists raised the voice against democracy and the class struggle, which in their opinion weakened and divided the nation. Opposed frontally to liberalism and Marxism, they advocated national solidarity and collective action around the figure of a charismatic leader, and presented themselves as defenders of the values of the country, law and order, violently facing the Italian left .
Mussolini managed to win the favor of the great owners and to be chosen deputy in the elections of May of 1921, although his party obtained only thirty and five of the five hundred seats that conformed the camera. The impotence of the government to redress the situation in which the country was and the dissolution of Parliament paved the way for the so-called March on Rome , which began on October 22, 1922. On October 28, 1922, in a coordinated action, forty a thousand fascists converged on the capital from different parts of Italy. The Prime Minister, Luigi Facta, declared the site to face the threat that loomed over the capital, and the refusal of King Victor Manuel IIIto sign the decree, submitted the resignation.
On October 29, pressed by events, the king had to sign the appointment of Benito Mussolini as prime minister. The Fascist leader, who for some time had renounced his ferocious republicanism, recognizing the role of the monarchy, formed a coalition government on October 30, the same day that the black shirts , as the fascists were called by color of his uniform, made their triumphal entry into Rome. Reflecting on a calculated image of moderation, Mussolini obtained the parliamentary support of a weak chamber that on November 25 provisionally granted him emergency powers in order to restore order, obtaining in return Mussolini’s feigned commitment to respect the parliamentary system.
Mussolini in Power
Fascism had come to power with the support of conservative environments, mainly agricultural latifundism, and was reinforced by its capacity to present itself as the central nucleus of a block of conservative order capable of defending the national bourgeoisie from democratic dangers represented, above all, by the socialists, with their communist faction. With the meeting, for the first time in December 1922, of the Great Fascist Council, the party was strengthened, soon to leave behind its extreme anti-clericalism with gestures of rapprochement towards Catholicism and the Holy See, while increasing repression politics.
The new government found in the “squadrons” (Volunteer Militias for National Security) a force that imposed by violence and terrorism their positions in the campaign for the April 1924 elections, in which the National Fascist Party obtained the 69 percent of the votes cast. From that moment, political violence was increasing, and gradually (although with greater impetus after the assassination of the socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti in 1924) Benito Mussolini was erected like unique power, annihilated any form of opposition and ended up transforming its government in a dictatorial regime; after being outlawed in 1925 all political forces except for the National Fascist Party,
Lacking a coherent ideology, fascism developed a rhetoric that insisted on a number of motives: nationalism and the cult of power, hierarchy and personality of the Duce (‘Leader’ or ‘Boss’, a title adopted by Mussolini in 1924); militarism and colonial expansionism (with more than a century of delay); xenophobia and the exaltation of a glorious past traced back to the Roman Empire and to Romanity as a civilizing idea.
The right to strike was abolished and unions and employers, employers and workers had to join the corporate organizations created by the government. The regime imposed a social structure of corporations that nullified individual rights and gave the state all control; work, economic life and leisure were regulated by the government, which was joined by the paramilitarization of society, mass propaganda, control of the media and education of children under a fascist creed. But there were no changes in the productive fabric either; economic power remained in the hands of those who already owned it before the First World War, and corporatism was reduced to a facade ideology.
Supported by a large sector of the population and with the advantage in favor of that effective propaganda apparatus, the fascist regime made heavy investments in infrastructures. But in general, fascism, tinged economically by a strong state interventionism and a tendency to autarky that was accentuated after the crash of 29, was unable to provide throughout the 1920s and 1930s the alleged and proclaimed progress material, for the sake of which the Italians demanded the sacrifice of individual liberty.
He did, however, replace it with a generalized psychological euphoria, in which the Italian people were imbued with the conviction that their country was experiencing a new national revival. In support of this feeling, and trying to bring sensational triumphs in foreign policy with which to magnetize the Italians, Benito Mussolini recovered old expansionist projects, like the conquest of Abyssinia (1935-1936) and the annexation of Albania (1939). Abyssinia (present Ethiopia) was considered by the Duce like a natural zone of expansion and logical nexus between the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somalia; the passivity of France and England before the invasion created a bad precedent.
The Second World War
After the arrival to the power of Adolf Hitler in Germany, Mussolini was approaching the Nazism; in fact, the Nazi leader had been inspired by his ideas, and both leaders admired each other. After a first treaty of friendship in 1936, the alliance between Rome and Berlin was firmly established in the Steel Pact (1939). Hitler and Mussolini openly offered military support to General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a prelude to the worldwide conflagration. Hitler’s aggressive expansionist policy finally provoked the reaction of the French and British, who declared war on Germany after the occupation of Poland.
Thus broke out World War II (1939-1945), and after the first German victories, which he judged to be definitive, Mussolini validated his pact with Hitler and declared war on the Allies (June 1940). However, the failure of the little prepared Italian army in Greece, Libya and East Africa, as well as the subsequent advance of the allied troops (that on July 10, 1943 had initiated an unstoppable landing on the island of Sicily, with the purpose of invading Italy) , led the Great Fascist Council to dismiss Mussolini (25 July 1943). The next day Victor Manuel III ordered his arrest and imprisonment. Two months later the new prime minister, Pietro Badoglio , signed an armistice with the allies.
Released by German paratroopers (September 12, 1943), Mussolini still created a fascist republic in the German-controlled territories of northern Italy (the Salò Republic, so called by the city in which the government had its headquarters). In the Verona trials, Mussolini condemned and executed those members of the Great Fascist Council who had promoted his dismissal, including his own son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. The final advance of the allies forced him to undertake the flight to Switzerland; attempted to cross the border in disguise as a German officer, but was discovered in Dongo by members of the Resistance (April 27, 1945), and the next day he was shot with his companion Clara Petacci; their corpses were exposed for public derision in the Loreto square of Milan.