| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
Benito Mussolini (1883 — 1945) was the dictator of Italy from 1922 until his execution in 1945. Mussolini was the original fascist (after all, he coined the term), but was never as good at it as the Austrian immigrant in charge of Germany.
Mussolini was born to an atheist, anarchist father and a Roman Catholic mother. Following his mother into school-teaching, 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 edited 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 new-found nationalism and a dash of survival-of-the-fittest philosophy to produce fascism.
Founding the National Fascist Party, he led a coup, the "March on Rome", which resulted in the King of Italy appointed him as dictator 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, propping up big business, and greatly reducing foreign trade.
In 1929 the Italian government signed the Lateran Treaty, setting up the Vatican City as an independent state. Italy then began pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, picking on the weakest nations it could find: in 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia and conquered it after an 8-month war; in April 1939 it conquered Albania, which fell without any serious attempts to resist.
In 1937 Mussolini teamed up with Adolf Hitler (in power in Germany 1933-1945), resulting in Italy entering World War II in June 1940 on the Axis side. Germany dominated that alliance, forcing Italy to adopt Nazi-style race laws and otherwise become a German client state. Italian troops generally performed poorly, first suffering an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the inferior Greek army (1940-1941), then failing against the British Empire in North Africa (1940-1943). Italian forces also took part in the German invasion of the USSR (1941-1943) and in anti-partisan actions in the Balkans and southeastern France, again without much success.
When World War II began to turn against the Axis, King Victor Emmanuel III deposed Mussolini and had him arrested (July 1943). The Nazis rescued Mussolini (September 1943) 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,
goddamn heroes communist partisans captured the Duce, who was 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. Interestingly, when Hitler traveled to Spain to meet Franco after the end of the civil war, Franco turned up three hours late to the meeting because the trains were shit. This was the start of a rocky relationship between the two powers that never really improved.
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."
- "Loco Motive." Snopes. September 29, 2007. http://www.snopes.com/history/govern/trains.asp.
- Alex Koppelman (January 11, 2008). "'We're all fascists now'". http://web.archive.org/web/20110219092556/http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/01/11/goldberg/index.html.