Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883, the son of a blacksmith. His father was a socialist
who favoured anarchism, military authoritarianism and nationalism, all of which heavily influenced a young Mussolini, who worked alongside his father in the smithy for many years. His mother was devoutly Catholic, and a schoolteacher, while his father was not religious. They compromised in the raising of their son by sending him to a Catholic boarding school. However, Benito was rebellious and violent, and soon expelled from the school. He was sent to another school, where he excelled academically. Early in his life he was not religious, and in fact held his father's strongly anticlerical views, but he reconciled with the Catholic church after he had taken control of Italy.
In 1902 he emigrated to Switzerland
, hoping to avoid compulsory military service in Italy
. He was unable to find steady employment there, but did manage to develop his ideology, studying philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche
and Georges Sorel. Sorel especially impressed him with his calls for the violent overthrow of democracy and capitalism. While in Switzerland he became involved with Italian Socialism, becoming involved with journalism for the first time through L'Avvenire del Lavoratore
("The Future of the Worker"). In 1903 he was arrested for advocating violent strikes. He was imprisoned, then deported to Italy, though he returned to Switzerland quickly. In 1904 he was arrested again, and returned to Italy after being guaranteed amnesty for dodging the draft earlier. He volunteered in the Italian Army for two years, then became a teacher.
In 1908 he moved to the city of Trento, then a part of Austria-Hungary, where he became secretary for the labour party there. He remained involved with L'Avvenire del Lavoratore
, acting as editor of the paper. He then spent some time in Milan before returning to his hometown, Forli, where he edited the weekly newsletter Lotta di Classe
("The Class Struggle"). He wrote a piece for the radical periodical Il Voce
, called "Trento as seen by a Socialist", as well as a romance novel, "The Cardinal's Mistress" that was later withdrawn from circulation, due to anticlerical content, when he made a truce with the Vatican
By this point he had risen to become one of the most noted socialists in Italy. In 1911 he participated in a violent riot to protest the Italian war in Libya
, and was imprisoned for five months for his involvement. When he was released he removed two pro-war members from the party and was given editor of the party newspaper, Avanti!
He greatly increased the readership of the paper, from 20,000 to 100,000 people. Despite this, Mussolini's ideology was highly irregular, as he was increasingly influenced by Nietzsche's idea of the ubermensch
, and anti-egalitarianism, ideological shifts highly at odds with the accepted socialist doctrine.
When Italy entered World War I in 1914, the Italian Socialists were unsure how to react, eventually settling on disapproval. Mussolini at first toed the party line, declaring socialists to be neutral in one of his articles, but soon after he had decided to throw in with the war effort, hoping that the war would topple the Hapsburgs in Austria-Hungary. He hoped that suppressing what he termed "reactionary" governments would provide benefits for the working class. These pro-war views brought him directly into conflict with the majority of the Italian Socialist Party, who continued to support the anti-war movement. He began to publicly criticize both the party and individual socialists. He was expelled from the party for these views.
After his expulsion, his ideology shifted radically. He began to advocate a nationalist ideal that transcended class. In 1914 he founded the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia
and the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista
with the intention of bringing other socialists and revolutionaries to the side of intervention in the war. He received funding for his newspapers from an armaments company, and later from French socialists who wanted Italy to side with France
in the war. In December of 1914 he publicly denounced orthodox socialism, simultaneously revealing the extent of his radical shift towards the new, revolutionary national socialism. He formed a new party, the Fascists, who often clashed violently with both government forces and traditional socialists. He served in the war for about 9 months at the front line, but was wounded by a mortar explosion in his trench in 1917. After recuperating he returned to being editor-in-chief of Il Popolo d'Italia.
He became involved in politics in 1917, when he was given a job with MI5. In 1919 he reformed his Fascist party, emphasizing a strong sense of national unity and an end to class conflict. The party grew rapidly in influence. It was during this time that the armed wing of the party, the Blackshirts, was created. In 1921 the Fascists were transformed again, becoming the National Fascist Party. In the same year, Mussolini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
Mussolini staged a coup d'etat from the 27 to the 29th of October, 1921. This coup was known as the March on Rome, and it ousted the Prime Minister. The King handed over all power to Mussolini on the 28th of October. In the early years he headed a right-wing coalition government, though his eventual goal was a totalitarian state with himself as leader. He used the legislature to obtain dictatorial powers that would last one year, and in 1923 passed the Acerbo Law, turning Italy into a single constituency. In 1924 the national alliance of which the Fascists were a major part earned 64% of the vote, largely through violence and intimidation.
A socialist deputy who questioned these tactics was assassinated, leading to a crisis in Italy as the assassin was found to be a Blackshirt. The assassin was imprisoned and later alleged that Mussolini had been responsible for the assassination. Several political opponents boycotted congress in protest, but only succeeded in allowing Mussolini to pass any legislation he chose unopposed. At the end of December of 1924 he dropped the pretenses of democracy after warnings from his own military wing to crush his opponents. He made a speech before the Chamber admitting that he was responsible for Blackshirt violence and promising to crack down on dissension, as well as predicting that a majority of Italians would fall behind him when they saw he was firmly in control.
In 1922 he put the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, colonies, corporations, defense and public works, as well as being head of the Fascist Party, the Premier, and the leader of the Blackshirts. He later formed an institutional secret police. He used his total control of every element of the government to suppress any opposition in Italy. Between 1925 and 1927 he systematically removed any blocks to his power, creating a police state. In 1925 he formally changed his title to "head of government". In April of 1926 there was an attempt on his life made by a mentally ill woman named Violet Gibson. In October of the same year, Anteo Zamboni, a 15-year-old, attempted to assassinate him, and was lynched on the spot. Several other assassination attempts were made, but all failed.
In 1928 he outlawed all other parties, though they had been outlawed in practice since 1925. Parliamentary elections were abolished at the same time, replaced by the selection of candidates by the Grand Council of Fascism, which had been created some five years previous.
Economically speaking, he drove the country further into debt with schemes such as the "Battle for Grain", Italy's green revolution that gave subsidies to farmers and focused on the production of grain over less economically viable crops. He achieved limited success with his other plans, like the "Battle for Land". In 1935 he had placed over three quarters of Italian businesses under state control, as well as forcing banks, businesses and citizens to turn over foreign bonds to the Bank of Italy. He claimed to have turned Italy into an autarky (a completely self-sufficient state), but still kept up extensive trade with Germany
. He heavily controlled propaganda in Italy, only allowing journalists who received secret seals of approval to practice journalism. He quashed independent unions and forced them to join corporative guilds. He used schools to force his ideals upon Italian youth, creating Blackshirt youth groups quite similar to the Hitler Youth then on the rise in Germany. Mussolini was an extremely aggressive nationalist, creating and consolidating Italian power in Corfu, Libya, Albania and Ethiopia, the last of which he took control of during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1936, which was internationally condemned. Between 1936 and 1939, Italy intervened on the side of Spanish
dictator Francisco Franco
, simultaneously alienating the British
and the French
while strengthening ties with Adolf Hitler's Germany
In 1939 the "axis" of Germany and Italy that had existed since 1936 was confirmed when Mussolini and Hitler swore the Pact of Steel. Their early relationship was complicated, as Hitler looked up to Mussolini while Mussolini himself looked down on the racially-charged doctrine of Nazism, which he felt could not be successfully pursued in a contemporary society. Despite his later attempts to appease Hitler's rabid racism, Mussolini himself was never really an anti-Semite. Nevertheless, in 1938 he passed the Manifesto of Race, stripping Italian Jews of their citizenships, as well as any government jobs they held. These laws proved unpopular with the Italian population as a whole, and Mussolini later expressed his regret for them.
Though Italy had helped Germany acquire the Sudetenland in 1938, Mussolini did not declare war on England
or France in 1939 when they declared against Germany. In large part this was due to the woeful lack of armaments in Italy. Though he initially vacillated on which side to enter the war on, he decided that a German victory looked likely, and so declared war on England and France on June 10th, 1940. He spread his forces out, some fighting in East Africa
, others in Greece
, and still others in the Battle of Britain. He declared war on the Soviet Union
, and later America, in 1941.
By 1943 the Italian war effort was starting to collapse. The campaign in Africa had fallen to pieces, and the Allies were invading Sicily. The people there, tired of Mussolini's rule and German intervention, were even greeting the Allied troops as liberators. Allied bombings were destroying factories, and Mussolini was losing control of the propaganda machine. These losses unbalanced Mussolini, and he was soon turned on by his own government. On July 24th he convened the Grand Council of Fascism, who voted to remove Mussolini from his position and return the king's full constitutional powers. Mussolini, who had never taken the threat posed by the Council seriously, appeared at work the next day anyways, was told he had been replaced by Pietro Badoglio, and was promptly arrested. He was moved to a mountain resort to keep him away from the Germans, and remained there for two months while Italy was thrown into turmoil by the dissolution of the Fascist party, peace with the Allies and the declaration of war on Germany.
He was rescued on September 12th by German troops. Hitler had hoped to overthrow the king and replace him with Mussolini as head of the Italian government, but was foiled when the king and his government escaped into the south. Though he was unwell and hoped to retire, Hitler forced Mussolini to set up a new fascist government, which operated out of the town of Salo. Mussolini was essentially a puppet, and had little to do with the running of the new Italian Social Republic.
On April 27th, 1945, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were found trying to escape Italy to safety in Spain. Along with his mistress and 15 men travelling with them (mostly members of the Italian Social Republic's government), Mussolini was executed on April 28th, 1945. He was shot twice in the chest.
In Other Media
Mussolini first appeared in a 1940 Charlie Chaplin
film, The Great Dictator
, in which he was satirized as "Benzino Napoloni". This character was played by Jack Oakie.
He has been the subject of many biographical and dramatic films over the years which have focused on everything from his early years to the crumbling of his reign. He appeared in the 1974 movie Mussolini: Ultimo atto
(Mussolini: The Last Act
). In the 1981 movie Lion of the Desert
he was played by Rob Stieger. He was portrayed by actor George C. Scott in the 1985 TV miniseries Mussolini: The Untold Story
. The 1985 movie Mussolini and I
centred around his relationship with his daughter Edda and her husband, who was executed in 1943. This version of Mussolini was played by Bob Hoskins. The 1993 movie Benito
starred Spanish actor Antonio Banderas as Mussolini. In the 1999 film Tea with Mussolini
he is played by Claudio Spadaro. In the 2009 film Vincere
, Mussolini was played by Filippo Timi, who also played Mussolini's estranged son, Benito Albino Mussolini.