Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was born July 29, 1883 in the Italian village
Mussolii moved to
Switzerland in 1902 but was a failure as schoolteacher, bricklayer,
anarchist, chocolate factory worker. He became a communist in 1903 and
read Nietzche as well as Marx.
He returned to Italy
in 1910 and became editor of the socialist newspaper Avanti! 1912-14
where he met the art critic Margheritaq Sarfatti who would turn him
toward fascism. In 1914 he founded the newspaper Popolo d'Italia
In Dec. 1914 Mussolini
joined a group of Italian socialists who broke away from socialism and
formed the first "fascistii" to support Italian expansion
to its "natural frontiers" (including Libya) and King Vittorio
Emanuel III who declared war against Austria.
In 1915 Mussolini
was conscripted into the army, injured by a grenade explosion in training,
"the most beautiful moment in his life,'' was invalided out of
the army and returned to his newspaper in June 1917.
With the Italian
defeat at Caporetto Oct. 24, 1917, Mussolini called for national discipline
and a dictator to take over the weak government.
On March 23, 1919,
Mussolini launched his fascist movement, the Italian Combat Fascists
(Fasci Italiani di Combattimento), at a meeting in Milan's Piazza San
Sepoloro, although his ideology was still leftist and libertarian. He
formed paramilitary squads of "arditi" similar to the Freikorps
and used them against his political enemies.
led raid to annex Fiume Sept. 12, 1919, and conceived of the plan later
adopted by Mussolini to march on Rome and seize the government.
Mussolini and his
fascist party in 1921 joined the parliamentary National coalition of
Giolitti and won 35 seats in the May 15 election, and the Fasci Italiani
di Combattimento reorganized under the new name of the National Fascist
The march on Rome
began Oct. 28, 1922, with arditi seizing government offices, and the
King decided to avoid bloodshed of an army repression and struck a deal
with Mussolini by making him Prime Minister. Mussolini formed a coalition
in parliament of Catholics, nationalists, and liberals to control the
Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
In the 1924 elections,
the fascists won 65% and 374 votes by using violence and intimidation,
and murdering the leading socialist opponent Giacomo Matteotti.
In October 1926
after an attempted assassination in Bologna, Mussolini with the assent
of the King expelled opposition deputies from Parliament, abolished
all political parties orther than fascist and created a totalitarian
dictatorship with a special judicial tribunal, no free press, and secret
police. (but Renzo de Felice 8-vol. biography has argued was only authoritarian
After 1926 Mussolini
supported King Zog in Albania as a possible ally in a war with Yugoslavia;
he suppressed Greek language and religion in the Dodecanese and fortified
the islands of Rhodes and Leros against possible Turkish invasion; supported
Croat rebels led by Ante Pavelic against king Alexander of Yugoslavia
(who was killed in Oct. 1934); sent arms to Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary,
and to Chancellor Englebert Dollfuss in Austria (who created a brutal
fascist regime by 1934 and drove many Austrians to support anschluss
with Germany), and even sent arms to Russia in return for Russian oil;
he continued to support the Italian pacification of Libya led by Marshal
In 1928 Italy signed
a friendship treaty with Ethiopia, but Mussolini sent arms and troops
to his colonies of Eritrea and Somalia and prepared for a colonial war.
On Feb. 11, 1929,
Mussolini signed the Lateran Agreements with the Vatican, reducing the
claims for lost church property to 2 billion lire from the Italian capture
of Rome in 1870, allowing clergy authority over marriage and the family,
and Pope Pius XI agreed to accept the authority of the Fascist dictatorship.
In 1931, Mussolini
began the 3-year project to drain and reclaim the Pontine Marshes for
3000 new farms. he built 1700 summer camps for city children, gave workers
the 8-hour day and universal insurance benefits; the Corporate State
of 22 corporations represented workers and owners with government supervision
of wages and hiring and firing, no unions or strikes allowed.
After Achille Starace
became secretary of the fascist party in Dec. 1931, he proclaimed all
meetings and public occasions would begin with the official Roman "salute
to the Duce" and all fascists would wear military-style uniforms.
Hitler and Mussolini
met for the first time in June 1934 in Vienna, friendly on the outside
but antagonistic in private, disagreeing in private over Dollfuss (who
was assassinated in July by pro-nazi Austrians).
dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943. He centralized all power in himself
as the leader (il duce) of the Fascist party and attempted to create
an Italian empire, ultimately in alliance with HITLER's Germany. The
defeat of Italian arms in WORLD WAR II brought an end to his imperial
dream and led to his downfall.
Mussolini was born in Predappio, near Forli, in Romagna, on July 29,
1883. His father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith, and his mother, Rosa,
was a schoolteacher. Like his father, Benito became a fervent socialist.
He qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901. In 1902 he emigrated
to Switzerland. Unable to find a permanent job there and arrested for
vagrancy, he was expelled and returned to Italy to do his military service.
After further trouble with the police, he joined the staff of a newspaper
in the Austrian town of Trento in 1908. At this time he wrote a novel,
subsequently translated into English as The Cardinal's Mistress.
, Political Leader
/ World War II Figure
• Born: 29 July 1883
• Birthplace: Predappio, Italy
• Death: 28 April 1945 (Shot to death)
• Best Known As: Italy's dictator during World War II
Known as "Il Duce" -- the Leader -- Mussolini was the Fascist
dictator of Italy during World War II. Mussolini grew active in Italian
politics in the first decade of the 1900s. He then spent time in exile
in Switzerland and Austria, where he worked writing and editing socialist
newspapers. He returned to Italy after serving in World War I and gained
power and notoriety as a revolutionary nationalist. He founded the Fascist
Party in 1919, used force and intimidation against political opponents
and took power in 1922. Nicknamed Il Duce, Mussolini created a dictatorship
and dissolved the parliament. Yet for many years he was popular as he
expanded government services and public works. In the 1930s Italy invaded
Ethiopia and Albania and in 1939 Mussolini promised an alliance with
Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. Italy's failures in the war led to Mussolini
being removed from government, and when the war ended he was arrested,
tried and executed.
His father, an ardent Socialist, was a blacksmith; his mother was a
teacher. Mussolini taught briefly and lived (1902–4) in Switzerland
to avoid military service. He achieved national prominence for his opposition
to the Libyan War (1911–12) and, as leader of the revolutionary
left of the Socialist party, became editor of the Socialist daily Avanti
(1913). Soon after World War I began, Mussolini abruptly turned nationalist
and joined the pro-Allied interventionists. The Socialist party, which
opposed all participation in nationalist wars, expelled him. He then
founded his own daily, the Popolo d'Italia, which was subsidized by
the French to encourage Italy's entry into the war on the side of the
Allies. He joined (1915) the army and attained the rank of corporal.
The Fascist Leader
In the troubled postwar period Mussolini organized his followers, mostly
war veterans, in the Fasci di combattimento, which advocated aggressive
nationalism, violently opposed the Communists and Socialists, and dressed
in black shirts like the followers of D'Annunzio. Amid strikes, social
unrest, and parliamentary breakdown, Mussolini preached forcible restoration
of order and practiced terrorism with armed groups. In 1921 he was elected
to parliament and the National Fascist party (see fascism) was officially
organized. Backed by nationalists and propertied interests, in Oct.,
1922, Mussolini sent the Fascists to march on Rome. King Victor Emmanuel
III permitted them to enter the city and called on Mussolini, who had
remained in Milan, to form a cabinet.
As the new premier, he gradually transformed the government into a dictatorship.
In 1924 the Socialist deputy Matteotti was murdered. Opposition was
put down by an efficient secret police and the Fascist party militia,
and the press was regimented. Parliamentary government ended in 1928,
and the state economy was reorganized along the lines of the Fascist
corporative state. Conflict between church and state was ended by the
Lateran Treaty (1929).
Mussolini was called Duce [leader] by his followers; his official title
was “head of the government,” and he held, besides the premiership,
as many portfolios as he saw fit. His ambition to restore ancient greatness
found expression in grandiloquent slogans and speeches and in the erection
of monumental buildings. The encouragement he gave to the already high
Italian birth rate, his imperialistic designs, and his incitement of
extreme nationalist groups created an explosive situation.
Fateful Alliance with Germany
Mussolini was at first cool to Adolf Hitler and opposed his designs
on Austria. However, Mussolini's diplomatic isolation after his attack
(1935) on Ethiopia led to a rapprochement with Germany. In 1936, Hitler
and Mussolini aided Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War; the Rome-Berlin
Axis was strengthened by a formal alliance (1939), which Mussolini's
son-in-law and foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, helped to create.
In 1938, Mussolini allowed Hitler to annex Austria and helped bring
about the Munich Pact; in Apr., 1939, he ordered the Italian occupation
of Albania. Under German pressure, he inaugurated an anti-Semitic policy
in Italy, which found little popular response. The Ethiopian and Spanish
wars had diminished the Duce's popularity, and he did not enter World
War II until France was falling in June, 1940.
The failure of Italian arms in Greece and Africa and the imminent invasion
by the Allies of the Italian mainland at last caused a rebellion within
the Fascist party. In July, 1943, the Fascist grand council refused
to support his policy—dictated by Hitler—and the king dismissed
him and had him placed under arrest. He was freed two months later by
a daring German rescue party and became head of the Fascist puppet government
set up in N Italy by Hitler.
On the German collapse (Apr., 1945) Mussolini was captured, tried in
a summary court-martial, and shot with his mistress, Clara Petacci.
Their bodies, brought to Milan, were hanged in a public square and buried
in an unmarked grave. Mussolini's body was later removed, and in 1957
it was placed in his family's vault.