Who is Benito Mussolini?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) was a fascist dictator that became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 and dictator in 1925. He ruled until Italy came under intense attack from the Allies during WWII and progressively greater control by Nazi Germany. On 23 July 1943, he was dismissed by the Grand Council of Fascism and the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III. Held in various locations for the next two months, he was rescued by Nazi commandos and taken to an audience with Hitler. Hitler demanded he set up another Italian fascist state, which he did. The state remained in existence until its collapse in 1945. On 29 July, 1945, while trying to escape the country, Mussolini and his mistress were discovered by Italian communist partisans and summarily executed.

Benito Mussolini was an Italian dictator in the early 20th century.
Benito Mussolini was an Italian dictator in the early 20th century.

Mussolini created the concept of Fascism along with Neo-Hegelian philosopher Giovanni Gentile in the late 1910s. The word is derived from the Italian fascio, which means "union" or "bundle," and is ultimately derived from the Latin fasces. The symbol of the movement was an axe surrounded by a bundle of sticks. The tenets of Italian Fascism included nationalism, class collaboration, populism, militarism, totalitarianism, dictatorship, social interventionism, economic planning, and statism. Fascism strongly opposes communism and liberalism. Mussolini's fascism was marketed as a "Third Way" between socialism and capitalism. By instituting a militaristic, expansionist totalitarian state, Mussolini aimed to revive the old glory of the Roman Empire.

Mussolini and Hitler were on the same side in World War II, fighting against the US and the other Allies.
Mussolini and Hitler were on the same side in World War II, fighting against the US and the other Allies.

Mussolini was born to working-class parents in the town of Forli in Italy. Influenced by the socialist beliefs of his father, Mussolini worked as a political journalist and initially a socialist activist. He frequently got in trouble for his politically charged editorials. When WWI broke out, Mussolini joined the Italian Army as a soldier. By the time the war had ended, he came to believe that socialism was a useless philosophy, and began to develop fascist ideas. In early 1918, he called for the emergence of a man "ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep" to revive the Italian nation and founded a fascist league in Milan, called the Blackshirts.

On 23 March 1919, Mussolini formed the "Italian Combat Squad," also known as the Blackshirts, to promote his fascist vision as a paramilitary group. Though the group only had 200 members initially, by 1922 it numbered 200,000. The group had so much power that it staged a coup in the March on Rome from 27 to 29 October, 1922, deposing Prime Minister Luigi Fracta and installing Mussolini as the new Prime Minister. Mussolini had the support of the military, the business class, and the liberal right-wing, and very importantly, the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III. Mussolini's early governments were a coalition of various political parties, but by 1925, under pressure from his own militants, Mussolini abandoned any semblance of democracy and seized absolute control, suppressing the opposition with torture, intimidation, and violence.

Mussolini then ruled Italy for about twenty years, from 1925 until 1943. His rule was characterized by large public works programs, such as land reclamation of the Pontine Marshes, creation of jobs, price controls, heavy propaganda, and improvement of public transport. Famously, Mussolini made the trains run on time. Though initially considering siding with France in WWII, by 1940 decided to side with the Axis, eventually leading to his deposition and eventual demise when Italy began losing the war. Since Mussolini and Hitler died in 1945, the government system of fascism has been considered taboo. The word "fascism" is also considered one of the most overused and over broadly applied words in the English language, eventually coming to mean practically anything bad. Hence, most political movements are reluctant to now label themselves fascist.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


So really, what Mussolini did in Italy mirrors what Hitler did in Austria and Germany- took advantage of the post- World War One disillusionment and lack of a strong leader, and filled that vacuum of power.


The thing it is hard to remember is that people like Mussolini really did a lot to organize their societies. Unfortunately, they also took too many liberties away from citizens.

However, I wonder if, had he not sided with Hitler, Mussolini would not have had an entirely different fate.

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