The Rise of Benito Mussolini

Mussolini 1919
Mussolini 1917
Mussolini on cover
from Time 1926/07/12
Henry Luce devoted entire issue to Italy
from Fortune July 1934
Mussolini 1933 by Diego Rivera
from DR Museum

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was born July 29, 1883 in the Italian village of Romagna.

Mussolini 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.

Gabriele D'Annunzio 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 Party.

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 - article)

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 Badoglio.

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).

Ethiopia invaded


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