Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) was fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943. He established himself as leader or il duce of the fascist party and ultimately hoped to take total control of Italy through the alliance with Hitler’s Germany; however, with the defeat of the Italian forces in WWII, Mussolini’s imperial dream quickly ended.
Mussolini was raised by a strong socialist father and followed in his father’s footsteps by inheriting fervent socialist beliefs. Schooled as a teacher, Mussolini tried his luck in Switzerland but could not hold a steady job. He was quickly expelled with charges of vagrancy and joined the Italian army in his return. His first editorial job was when 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.
He then became the editor at Forli of a socialist newspaper, La Lotta di Classe (The Class Struggle). His early enthusiasm for Karl Marx was modified by a mixture of ideas from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the revolutionary doctrines of Auguste Blanqui, and the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. In 1910, Mussolini became secretary of the local Socialist party at Forli. As a strong labor leader of Italian socialism, Mussolini became editor of the official Socialist newspaper Avanti.
Strongly believing in socialism, Mussolini was against Italy’s involvement in war; in fact, he was imprisoned for his pacifist propaganda when Italy declared war on Turkey in 1911. When WWI began in 1914, Mussolini was strongly against any involvement on Italy’s part; however, after two months into the war, Mussolini changed his mind and suddenly became a nationalist. By supporting the war, Mussolini was expelled from the Socialist Party. With these new ideas, Mussolini established a new paper called Il Popolo d'Italia, and the pro-war group Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria. Mussolini wished the war would leave Italy in ruins and he would be able to take complete control. Wounded during his service, Mussolini returned to his editorial position.
Mussolini established the Fasci de Combattimento in 1919 and fascism became a political movement in Italy. Mussolini tried to manufacture the illusion that fascism was a doctrine of the 20th century that replaced liberalism and democracy. The principles of this doctrine were laid down in the article on fascism, written by himself, that appeared in 1932 in the Enciclopedia Italiana. This group was very right wing and Mussolini was against his fellow Socialist members in parliament. 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 was officially organized. Mussolini was invited by the king in October 1922 to form a government when the liberal governments of Giovanni Giolitti, Ivanoe Bonomi, and Luigi Facta failed to stop the spread of anarchy.
At first Mussolini was supported by the Liberals in parliament and with their help he introduced strict censorship and altered the methods of election so that in 1925-1926 he was able to assume dictatorial powers and dissolve all other political parties. Mussolini had tight control over press and his amazing propaganda skills greatly manipulated the people causing minimal opposition. Any opposition was put down by an efficient secret police and the Fascist party militia, and the press was regimented. Mussolini was called Duce or leader by his followers. He held, besides the premiership, as many portfolios as he saw fit. Mussolini had was very influential at his peak of power, he took over the ministries of the interior, of foreign affairs, of the colonies, of the corporations, of the army and the other armed services, and of public works to name a few. He was also head of the all-powerful Fascist party, which was formed in 1921, and the armed Fascist militia. He was able to succeed in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival by controlling theses aspects. However, this regime he created was greatly corrupt.
Most everything about the parliamentary system was changed under the dictatorship and all law codes were rewritten. Teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the Fascist regime and Mussolini personally chose newspaper editors. To practice journalism at all, the writer had to possess an official certificate of approval from the Fascist party. The trade unions were also deprived of any independence and became part of a larger group with the aim to place all Italians in various professional organizations and ultimately under governmental control. Most industrial industries were transferred to private ownership but then placed rigid government control over and the change hurt the Italian economy.
Mussolini’s relationship with Hitler was a very complex one. At first the two were very cool toward each other mostly because of Mussolini’s concern over Hitler’s intentions with Austria. However, the two joined forces to help fellow fascist neighbor Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The Ethiopian and Spanish wars had diminished Mussolini’s popularity, and he did not enter World War II until France was falling in June of 1940. Mussolini had no choice but to follow his powerful ally in declaring war against France, Russia, and eventually the United States.
A rebellion within the Fascist party began over the failure of Italian arms in Greece and Africa and the imminent invasion by the Allies of the Italian mainland. In 1943, the Fascist grand council rejected Mussolini’s new policies (forced by Hitler) and the king placed Mussolini under arrest. He was later rescued by undercover German rescue party and became head of the Fascist puppet government in North Italy. Mussolini was later recaptured on the German collapse in 1945 and tried in a summary court-martial. He was eventually shot with his mistress, Clara Petacci and their bodies were hanged in a public square and buried in an unmarked grave. However, Mussolini's body was later removed in 1957 and was placed in his family's vault.