Benito Mussolini - People in History

The former residence of Mussolini in Rome, Italy.
The former residence of Mussolini in Rome, Italy.

Benito Mussolini was an Italian politician, journalist, and leader of the National Fascist Party who is commonly recognized as the founding figure of Italian Fascism. Mussolini was one of the dictators in 20th century Europe who left a lasting legacy. He enjoyed power as the nation’s Prime Minister from 1922 until his decline in 1945 during the Second World War.

5. Early Life

Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883, to Alessandro Mussolini and Rosa Maltoni. His father practiced as a blacksmith and was a Socialist while his mother was a Catholic school teacher. His birthplace is Dovia di Predappio in Romagna, Italy. He grew up helping his father in his craft and was influenced by his father’s admiration for Italian nationalist figures such as Giuseppe Garibaldi and Carlo Pisacane. Benito recorded high grades while studying at a boarding school operated by Salesian Monks and became a qualified elementary schoolmaster in 1901. After moving to Switzerland in 1902, he worked briefly as a stonemason. During this time, Mussolini became exposed to the works of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the ideas of syndicalists such as Georges Sorel and Hubert Lagardelle. He mingled with Italian Socialists but was deported in 1903 for encouraging a general strike. Mussolini returned to Switzerland and took classes at the University of Lausanne in the Department of Social Sciences. Mussolini came back to Italy to take advantage of amnesty for desertion, because he had been convicted in absentia. The condition of being pardoned was to serve in the army, and on December, 1904, he joined the military and served for two years before returning to teaching.

4. Rise to Power

Mussolini left for Trento, an Italian-speaking city which was part of Austria-Hungary. He got involved with the local Socialist Party and edited its newspaper. After spending a little time in Milan, he settled in his hometown of Forli and took on an editing job in the weekly ‘Lotta di Classe’ which translates to The Class Struggle. He immersed himself in political philosophy written in German and French and published several works. Mussolini established himself as one of the most prominent socialists in the country and even took part in a riot organized by socialists protesting the Italian war in Libya, for which he got a five-month jail term. The Socialist Party awarded him with the editorship of its newspaper Avanti! after he helped the party expel two ‘revisionists’ who were for the war. Mussolini published Giovanni Hus, il veridico which translates to Jan Hus, the true prophet. During World War I, he became at loggerheads with socialists who opposed the war and was subsequently expelled from the party. In 1914, Mussolini established an independent newspaper called Popolo d’Italia and a political movement named the Autonomous Fascists. He warmed up to the extreme middle-class youth and the new breed in Italian politics. He formed the Revolutionary Fascists movement in 1917, but his political career stagnated after World War I. He was elected to Parliament in 1921 after which the National Fascist Party was founded with Mussolini at its helm. Mussolini marched into Rome on October 1922 with the support of key demographics such as farmers and industrial workers as well as the church and military. He worked to consolidate his power as the new Prime Minister.

3. Challenges

The elections of April 6, 1924, sparked criticism from Giacomo Matteotti, who suggested that the results be annulled due to irregularities. Matteotti was subsequently assassinated, and the event triggered a crisis in Mussolini’s government. Amerigo Dumini served a two-year jail term and upon getting out, said Mussolini had ordered the assassination. Dumini was imprisoned again, but his declaration led to many moderates, socialists, and liberals boycotting Parliament in the hope that Victor Emmanuel would dismiss Mussolini. Mussolini’s economic reforms did little to improve the country’s economic situation.

2. Effect

As Prime Minister, Mussolini geared up to acquire territories and make Italy the most dominant power in the region. He spearheaded numerous government reforms to improve the country’s economy such as establishing new farms and agricultural towns and reclaiming lands. Mussolini made alliances with the Catholic Church after decades of alienation. He signed the Lateran Treaty in 1929 which affirmed the Vatican’s status as an independent state. He also developed cordial relations with Adolf Hitler which culminated in the 1939 Pact of Steel military alliance between the two nations.

1. Death and Legacy

Mussolini’s decline came during the Second World War as the Allies were making gains in the invasion of Italy, Mussolini was summoned by King Victor Emmanuel, under whose orders he was arrested. He was rescued by German forces and created a new regime called the Italian Social Republic. Mussolini, in the company of his mistress Clara Petacci, was captured by communist partisans on April 27, 1945, while advancing to Switzerland. He was shot the following day, and his remains lie in San Cassiano Cemetery in Predappio. Alessandra Mussolini is an active politician from the Mussolini family, being the daughter of Benito Mussolini’s fourth son, Romano Mussolini. Several neo-fascist parties have been formed since Mussolini’s death including the Italian Social Movement and the People of Freedom, both of which no longer exist.


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