Benito Mussolini

With pounding fists and brutal charisma, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) invoked
the myth of a new Roman Empire...and made himself its Caesar. The father of
Italian Fascism, Mussolini seized power through a potent combination of terror
and persuasion. Promising glory while crushing his enemies, he held Italy firmly
in his grasp from 1922 to 1943.

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, named after the left-wing Mexican
revolutionary Benito Juarez as well as two Italian revolutionaries, was born in
Predappio on July 29, 1883, as the son of a socialist blacksmith (1). He grew up
to be a self-proclaimed “anti-patriot,” a socialist like his father. He
became an elementary school teacher in 1901, and immigrated to Switzerland to
avoid being enlisted in the war in 1902. During this period, he was influenced
by the writings of Nietzsche, Hegel, and Karl Marx (2). It was in Switzerland
that Mussolini was arrested for vagrancy, and expelled back to Italy to finally
perform his required military service (3). After being wounded in the trenches,
he was sent home on crutches, only to become the editor of his own newspaper,
called IL Popolo d’Italia (or The People of Italy) after changing his pacifist
views and being dismissed by the Socialist Party. He used his newspaper to
spread his new ideas and gain support. He also organized a pro-war group called
Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria. After the war, Mussolini joined a different
group called the Arditi Association, a military assembly composed of World War I
veterans. Both associations contributed to the beginning of fascism (4).

On March 23, 1919, Mussolini founded the Fasci de Combattimento, the skeletal
structure for what was to become the organized political movement of Fascism
(5). This anti-socialist activity attracted support from the people of the
lower-middle class with its nationalistic, anti-liberal ideals. During the
1920s, fascism spread into the Italian countryside. It was there that the Black
Shirt Militia arose. This militia was formed to rid Italy of all socialist
groups, in order for fascism to rise. The group would torture Socialists by
forcing them to drink castor oil and swallow live frogs (6).

Mussolini then began to slowly break away from the Arditi Association as his
Fascist movement became more powerful. At first, the Fascist Party failed during
the 1919 elections, but they soon gained thirty-five seats in 1921, Mussolini
being one of the Fascists elected into the Parliament. All of this was done in
order to help anti-socialist leader, Giovanni Giolitti, gain more political
power (7). Soon after, Giolitti’s coalition began to break apart. Mussolini
seized this opportunity to start talking to the opposition. The Socialists then
proclaimed a strike in August 1922. Mussolini intervened while the government
did nothing, earning him large amounts of support from the people (8).

Soon after the Socialist strike, Mussolini organized the “March on Rome,”
which took place on the 28th of October, 1922. It included over forty thousand
armed Fascists, and in order to avoid a brutal civil war, King Victor Emmanuel
III invited Mussolini to form a new government. Two days later, at age 39,
Benito Mussolini was the new Prime Minister of Italy- his largest step towards
dictatorship (9).

Between 1922 and 1926, Mussolini was able to take over all dictatorial
powers, naming himself as “head of government,” deeming the King and the
Parliament powerless. He dissolved the other political parties through threats
and torture. Fascists now made up sixty-five percent of the parliament. He began
to introduce censorship laws and got rid of all democratically elected mayors.
Using his authority to control the press, he assumed the position of “IL Duce,”
or “the Leader.” His masterful approach to propaganda only elevated his
support from the Italians (10).

“Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, of foreign
affairs, of the colonies, of the corporations, of the army and other armed
services, and of 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 Fascist militia. In this way, he succeeded in
keeping power in his own hands preventing the emergence of any rival. But it was
at the price of creating a regime that was overcentralized, inefficient, and
corrupt” (Smith, 11).

The key to Mussolini’s (short-lived) success was his ability to use
propaganda to his immediate advantage. Education, radio, films, and the press
were all supervised to solicit the many expediencies of Fascism (12). In order
to sustain his power in the future of Italy, Mussolini started Fascist programs
for youth, starting at age four, with competition being emphasized. These
children soon grew up willing to die for the Fascist