Benito Mussolini was the dictator of Italy from 1922 until his death in 1945. Mussolini was the original fascist (after all, he coined the term), but was never as good at it as the short man to the north.
He was born to an atheist, anarchist father and a Roman Catholic mother. Following his mother into the schoolteaching profession, he was also politically active as a democratic socialist, becoming a very prominent member of the Italian Socialist Party in the years prior to World War I. He was the editor of several socialist papers and also wrote a novel, The Cardinal's Mistress, an anti-clerical satire. Although later in his life he converted to Catholicism, he remained anti-clerical.
During World War I, when he served as a soldier, his political views swung sharply to the right and he became a nationalist. At this time he fused some socialist economics with his newfound nationalism and a dash of Friedrich Nietzsche-style survival-of-the-fittest philosophy to produce fascism.
Founding the National Fascist Party, he led a coup, the "March on Rome," that resulted in his being appointed dictator by the King of Italy in 1922. His government immediately began to re-align the economy along nationalist and corporatist lines, pushing for greater agricultural production, heavily regulating the economy and business with wage and price controls, and greatly reducing foreign trade.
In 1929, the Italian government signed the Lateran Treaty, creating the Vatican City as an independent state.
Later, Mussolini entered into an alliance with Adolf Hitler, resulting in Italy entering World War II on the Axis side. Germany was the dominant partner in that alliance, forcing Italy to adopt Nazi-style race laws and otherwise become a German client state.
When World War II began to turn against the Axis, the King deposed Mussolini and had him arrested. The Nazis rescued Mussolini and took him to northern Italy where he set up the Italian Social Republic, a Nazi puppet state owing its existence solely to the German troops in Italy at that time.
As the war wound down, Mussolini was captured by communist partisans and extrajudicially executed by firing squad late on Saturday, April 28, 1945. His body was taken to Milan, where on Sunday it was strung up on a meat hook in front of a gas station alongside that of his mistress, just one day prior to Hitler's suicide in Berlin.
His version of fascism was nationalist rather than racist like Adolf Hitler's, but it was still authoritarian and involved the conquest of "lesser" peoples and countries, notably Ethiopia and Albania. For a long time, he was considered the scarier of the two fascists, but in the end proved much less effective or troublesome than Hitler.
It has been said that his rule wasn't so bad, because "he made the trains run on time." Given how notoriously difficult Italy has been to run, that might have been an accomplishment, except he didn't actually make the trains run on time. Mussolini also managed to keep the Sicilian Mafia under control for one of the few times in history. As a result the US Navy made several deals with convicted mob boss Charles "Lucky" Luciano prior to invading the island.
A noted blowhard, despite having written a book on "Liberal Fascism," once said "Mussolini was born a socialist, he died a socialist, he never abandoned his love of socialism, he was one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Europe and was one of the most important socialist activists in Italy, and the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I."
- Francisco Franco
- Adolf Hitler
- Pol Pot
- Augusto Pinochet
- Joseph Stalin
- Mao Zedong
- World War II
- ↑ "Loco Motive". Snopes.com. September 29, 2007. http://www.snopes.com/history/govern/trains.asp.
- ↑ http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/ww2Timeline/luciano.html
- ↑ http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/01/11/goldberg/index.html