Tuesday, August 18, 2009
40th Prime Minister of Italy
31 October 1922 – 25 July 1943
Monarch Victor Emmanuel III
Preceded by Luigi Facta
Succeeded by Pietro Badoglio (Provisional Military Government)
First Marshal of the Empire
30 March 1938 – 25 July 1943
Succeeded by Pietro Badoglio
Duce of the Italian Social Republic
23 September 1943 – 26 April 1945
Born 29 July 1883
Predappio, Forlì, Italy
Died 28 April 1945 (aged 61)
Giulino di Mezzegra, Italy
Political party Republican Fascist Party
National Fascist Party
Italian Socialist Party
Spouse(s) Rachele Mussolini
Profession Politician, Journalist
Religion "Converted" to Roman Catholicism in 1927, atheist in earlier life.
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, KSMOM GCTE (29 July 1883 - 28 April 1945) was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism. He became the Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 and began using the title Il Duce by 1925. After 1936, his official title was "His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire". Mussolini also created and held the supreme military rank of First Marshal of the Empire along with King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, which gave him and the King joint supreme control over the military of Italy. Mussolini remained in power until he was replaced in 1943; for a short period after this until his death he was the leader of the Italian Social Republic.
Mussolini was among the founders of Italian Fascism, which included elements of nationalism, corporatism, national syndicalism, expansionism, social progress and anti-communism in combination with censorship of subversives and state propaganda. In the years following his creation of the fascist ideology, Mussolini influenced, or achieved admiration from, a wide variety of political figures.
Among the domestic achievements of Mussolini from the years 1924–1939 were: his public works programmes such as the taming of the Pontine Marshes, the improvement of job opportunities, and public transport. Mussolini also solved the Roman Question by concluding the Lateran Treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See. He is also credited with securing economic success in Italy's colonies and commercial dependencies.
Although he initially favoured siding with France against Germany in the early 1930s, Mussolini became one of the main figures of the Axis powers and, on 10 June 1940, Mussolini led Italy into World War II on the side of Axis. Three years later, Mussolini was deposed at the Grand Council of Fascism, prompted by the Allied invasion. Soon after his incarceration began, Mussolini was rescued from prison in the daring Gran Sasso raid by German special forces.
Following his rescue, Mussolini headed the Italian Social Republic in parts of Italy that were not occupied by Allied forces. In late April 1945, with total defeat looming, Mussolini attempted to escape to Switzerland, only to be captured and summarily executed near Lake Como by Italian partisans. His body was taken to Milan where it was hung upside down at a petrol station for public viewing and to provide confirmation of his demise.
Birthplace of Benito Mussolini, today used as a museum.
Mussolini was born in Dovia di Predappio, a small town in the province of Forlì in Emilia-Romagna in 1883. In the Fascist era, Predappio was dubbed "Duce's town", and Forlì was "Duce's city". Pilgrims went to Predappio and Forlì, to see the birthplace of Mussolini.
Mussolini was born into a working class background; his father Alessandro Mussolini was a blacksmith and an Anarchist activist, while his mother Rosa Mussolini (née Maltoni) was a school teacher and a devout Catholic. Owing to his father's political leanings, Mussolini was named Benito after Mexican reformist President Benito Juárez, while his middle names Andrea and Amilcare were from Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani. Benito was the eldest of his parents' three children. His siblings Arnaldo and Edvige followed.
As a young boy, Mussolini would spend time helping his father in his blacksmithing. It was likely here that he was exposed to his father's significant political beliefs. Alessandro was a socialist and a republican, but also held some nationalistic views, especially in regards to some of the Italians who were living under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which were not consistent with the internationalist socialism of the time. The conflict between his parents about religion meant that, unlike most Italians, Mussolini was not baptised at birth and would not be until much later in life. However, as a compromise with his mother, Mussolini was sent to a boarding school run by Salesian monks. Mussolini was rebellious and was expelled after a series of behaviour related incidents, including throwing stones at the congregation after Mass, stabbing a fellow student in the hand and throwing an inkpot at a teacher. After joining a new school, Mussolini achieved good grades, and qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901.
Mussolini as an Italian soldier, 1917
Political journalist and soldier
In 1902, Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland partly to avoid military service. He worked as a stone mason and during this time studied the ideas of Nietzche, the sociologist Pareto and the syndicalist Sorel. Mussolini also, later in life, credited as influences on his thought the French Marxian Convert Charles Péguy who started a Socialist but became a convert to Roman Catholicism, and Hubert Lagardelle (also a French Syndicalist). 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 him deeply. He was unable to find a permanent job in Switzerland, and was at one point arrested for vagrancy and jailed for one night. While in Switzerland he picked up speaking knowledge of French and a smattering of German. Later, after becoming involved in the socialist movement, he was deported to Italy and volunteered for military service. After his two years of service he returned to teaching.
Political journalist and Socialist
Soon he joined the Marxian Socialist movement. In February 1908 in the city of Trento as secretary of the local chamber of labor, which was ethnically Italian but then under the control of Austria-Hungary. While there he wrote The Cardinal's Mistress which was bitterly anticlerical and years later had to be withdrawn from circulation after he made his truce with the Vatican He did office work for the local socialist party and edited its newspaper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore ("The Future of the Worker").
By 1910 Mussolini returned to Forli where he edited the weekly Lotta di classe. He was now one of Italy's most prominent Socialists. In 1911 (September), there was a riot by Socialists, and Mussolini with them, in Forlì, against the Italian war in Libya. He bitterly denounced the "imperialist war" to gain Tripoli, an action which earned him a five month jail term. After his release he helped expel from the ranks of the Socialist party two 'revisionists' who had supported the war, Ivanhoe Bonimi, and leonida Bissolati. For that he was rewarded with the editorship of the Socialist party newspaper Avanti! Its circulation soon rose from 20,000 to 100,000. During this time he had become important enough for the Italian police to write the following (excepts) police report prepared by the Inspector-General of Public Security in Milan, G. Gasti
Break with Socialists
The Inspector General wrote:
Regarding Mussolini Professor Benito Mussolini,...38, revolutionary socialist, has a police record; elementary school teacher qualified to teach in secondary schools; former first secretary of the Chambers in in Cesena, Forli, and Ravenna; afte 1912 editor of the newspaper Avanti! to which he gave a violent suggestive and intransigent orientation. In October 1914, finding himself in opposition to the directorate of the Italian Socialist party because he advocated a kind of active neutrality on the part of Italy in the War of the Nations against the party's tendency of absolute neutrality, he withdrew on the twentieth of that month from the directorate of Avanti! Then on the fifteenth of November , thereafter, he initiated publication of the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia in which he supported -- in sharp contrast to Avanti! and amid bitter polemics against that newspaper and its chief backers -- the thesis of Italian intervention in the war against the militarism of the Central Empires. For this reason he was accused of moral and political unworthiness and the party thereupon decided to expel him. Thereafter he....undertook a very active campaign in behalf of Italian intervention, participating in demonstrations in the piazzas and writing quite violent articles in Popolo d'Italia....
In his summary the Inspector also notes:
"He was the ideal editor of Avanti! for the Socialists. In that line of work he was greatly esteemed and beloved. Some of his former comrades and admirers still confess that there was no one who understood better how to interpret the spirit of the proletariate and there was no one who did not observe his apostacy with sorrow. This came about not for reasons of self-interest or money. He was a sincere and passionate advocate, first of vigilant and armed neutrality, and later of war; and he did not believe that he was compromising with his personal and political honesty by making use of every means -- no matter where they came from or wherever he might obtain them -- to pay for his newspaper, his program and his line of action. This was his initial line. It is difficult to say to what extent his socialist convictions (which never did he either openly or privately abjure) may have been sacrificed in the course of the indispensable financial deals which were necessary for the continuation of the struggle in which he was engaged... But assuming these modifications did take place... he always wanted to give the appearance of still being a socialist, and he fooled himself into thinking that this was the case."
Building a dictatorship
After taking power, Mussolini was often seen in military uniform
Mussolini's influence in propaganda was such that he had surprisingly little opposition to suppress. Nonetheless, he was "slightly wounded in the nose" when he was shot on 7 April 1926 by Violet Gibson, an Irish woman and daughter of Baron Ashbourne. On 31 October 1926, 15-year-old Anteo Zamboni attempted to shoot Mussolini in Bologna. Zamboni was lynched on the spot. Mussolini also survived a failed assassination attempt in Rome by anarchist Gino Lucetti, and a planned attempt by American anarchist Michael Schirru, which ended with Schirru's capture and execution. Members of TIGR, a Slovene anti-fascist group, plotted to kill Mussolini in Caporetto in 1938, but their attempt was unsuccessful.
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 terrorised incipient resistances in the cities and provinces. He would later form the OVRA, an institutionalised 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.
Between 1925 and 1927, Mussolini progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power, thereby building a police state. A law passed on Christmas Eve 1925 changed Mussolini's formal title from "president of the Council of Ministers" to "head of the government." He was no longer responsible to Parliament and could only be removed by the king. While the Italian constitution stated that ministers were only responsible 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. Local autonomy was abolished, and podestas appointed by the Italian Senate replaced elected mayors and councils.
All other parties were outlawed in 1928, though in practice Italy had been a one-party state since Mussolini's 1925 speech. 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 "constitutionalised" 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.
In order 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:
"Your Excellency has carte blanche, the authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. If the laws still in force hinder you, this will be no problem, as we will draw up new laws."
He did not hesitate laying siege to towns, using torture, and getting women and children as hostages to oblige suspects to give themselves up. These harsh methods earned him the nickname of "Iron Prefect". However, in 1927 Mori's inquiries brought evidence of collusion between the Mafia and the Fascist establishment, and he was dismissed for length of service in 1929. Mussolini nominated Mori as a senator, and fascist propaganda claimed that the Mafia had been defeated.