| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
“”"For Fascism, the growth of Empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence."
|— Mussolini, giving an admirably concise summation of his belief system|
“”"The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well."
|— Bunga Bunga Berlusconi, once again demonstrating that he has a few screws loose|
Benito Mussolini (1883–1945)
also known as Chef Boyardee 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 that one Austrian dude in charge of Germany. Today he is most remembered for siding with Team Bad Guy in that one really big war and subsequently suffering a long series of disastrous military embarrassments. In spring 1945, Mussolini attempted to flee the burning wreckage of his country with his lady friend, but he was captured by communist partisans and executed. Oops.
Mussolini's 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. In the 1920s and 1930s, he was considered the scarier of the two fascists, even among the fascists. In the end, however, Hitler turned the tables on him and made him into a mere client to the Nazi empire.
- 1 Mussolini the… socialist?
- 2 Mussolini the wimpy soldier
- 3 Mussolini the incoherent opportunist
- 4 Mussolini Il Duce
- 5 Mussolini the loooooooser
- 6 Mussolini, the best friend of Jonah Goldberg
- 7 See also
- 8 References
Mussolini was born to an atheist, anarchist father and a Roman Catholic mother. Papa Mussolini was also an admirer of Giuseppe Garibaldi, and instilled in little Benito the belief that it is essential for all Italians to live under Italian rule.
Benito later followed his mother into school-teaching and became politically active as a democratic socialist. He was 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 satirical novel, The Cardinal's Mistress, which was terribly written and mostly served as a vehicle for numerous anti-clerical rants. Apparently, you can't be a fascist leader without writing at least one really shitty book. Although later in his life he converted to Catholicism, he remained anti-clerical. Strangely enough, even when he was a socialist, he enthusiastically embraced Nietzsche's concept of the "Superman" and rejected egalitarianism.
Mussolini's break from socialism came as a result of the First World War. The Italian Socialist Party (sensibly) favored neutrality in the continental bloodbath. Mussolini, however, saw the war as an opportunity to "liberate" historical Italian land held by the Austria-Hungarian Empire. This conflict resulted in his expulsion from the Party.
Mussolini the wimpy soldier
Following his split with the socialists, Mussolini focused on running his Entente-backed, pro-interventionist newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia ("The People of Italy"). His efforts proved successful when Italian king Vittorio Emanuele III forced a war declaration over the objections of his government and most of the Italian population. This declaration of war, however, was motivated only by the Entente's promises of returning historic Italian lands held by Austria, such as Tyrol, Istria, and Dalmatia. This fact will be important later.
Mussolini was called to the front in mid-1915, but he received generous benefits and leave time due to his continued management of his pro-war newspaper. In fact, the future fascist received a (then enormous) salary of $6,000 per week from the British intelligence agency MI5 to write articles urging Italians to continue supporting the war against the Central Powers. That certainly never came back to bite anyone…
In the pages of his newspaper, Mussolini liked to portray himself as a Nietzsche-esque Superman who dominated his weaker comrades. The reality was much different. The more time he spent in the poorly led and equipped Italian army, the more miserable he became. His diaries from that time reveal that he was regretting his support for interventionism and feeling despair. He even asked a political ally and fellow ex-socialist in the government to arrange his early release from military service. This attempt failed, but a lucky mishap with a grenade saw him pulled off the front lines.
Despite this, his experiences as a soldier caused his political views to swing sharply to the right. He became a nationalist and denounced his former socialist pals for refusing to recognize the importance of the nation over the importance of class struggle:
“”The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that the concept was totally without substance. Instead we see the nation arise as a palpitating reality before us! … Class cannot destroy the nation. Class reveals itself as a collection of interests—but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, and race. Class can become an integral part of the nation, but the one cannot eclipse the other.
More than that, however, Mussolini really liked what he saw of the military. He wanted to create a society that was run like the ideal army: obedient, hardworking, disciplined, and most importantly conformist. So
Chef Boyardee Benito brought out his cooking pot and mixed some socialist economics into his new-found nationalism and added a dash of survival-of-the-fittest philosophy to create fascism. Yummy.
Mussolini the incoherent opportunist
After the World War, Europe was a flaming ruin filled with poverty and pissed-off political nutjobs. Italy was no exception, and its subsequent economic collapse caused inflation and unemployment to skyrocket, and faith in capitalism to flatline. Even worse, the whole damn war was seen as completely pointless, as diplomatic squabbles at Versailles resulted in Italy's failure to recover all of the land they sought. All of this combined to bring Italy to the brink of failed state-hood as workers' strikes and political deadlock became the norm. With the old order essentially dead, Italy's citizens unsurprisingly became very open to revolutionary political ideas.
Like so many other opportunistic political hacks before and after him, Mussolini saw his chance at power. He founded the National Fascist Party and quickly rounded up a coalition of futurists, left-wingus interventionists, radical nationalists, and angry World War I veterans, all united in their desire to see Italy stop sucking so damn much. Interestingly, about a quarter of Musso's supporters were below voting age, and another half were war veterans. While this was a good start, Mussolini needed an actual economic plan to make fascism go mainstream.
With this in mind, Mussolini declared that he wanted to clear marshland to build houses, infrastructure, and increase farmland. He also wanted to increase the value of the lira and focus the country on growing more valuable fruit and vegetable crops rather than grain. This plan sounds good on paper, but it was actually really stupid for a few reasons that everyone found out after he became Duce:
- Increasing the value of Italy's currency made exports more expensive, making it much harder for businesses to sell products outside of Italy.
- Prioritizing more valuable crops over grain caused bread prices to rise, which was extremely bad for Italy's poor strata.
- Italy's economy just straight-up couldn't bounce back like everyone wanted because it was an agrarian country with little industry. This problem could be addressed, but not quickly.
The main point here is that Mussolini wasn't successful because he was some kind of genius. Mussolini was successful because he was a thug who was somehow blessed with excellent writing and public speaking skills. That brings us to the rest of the story.
Fascism's initial success came through intimidation tactics; he organized his war veterans into armed squads known as "Black Shirts" to beat up and kill anyone he didn't like. Their favorite activity was burning down opposing political headquarters (especially socialist ones) to terrorize opponents and increase their national stature. By 1922, the fascist movement became powerful enough to have a real chance at taking power. Mussolini and his followers put together a plan on how to seize the country: have armed fascists congregate in Rome and demand the resignation of the government and the installation of Mussolini as Prime Minister. This was called the March on Rome. The true reason for success, however, was the threat to seize the city by force if the government didn't play ball. Even though a fascist uprising would fail quickly, Italy's king feared a civil conflict so soon after World War I, and he folded. Take that as a lesson, kids. If you get really, really loud and angry, people will give you whatever you want.
So with that kind of success, you'd assume that fascism was some kind of really firm belief system. You would be right… and wrong. The thing to understand about Mussolini's fascism is that it was cobbled together very quickly and involved almost no intellectual debate or deep thought. Italian fascism was largely a product of Mussolini's own opinions and prejudices, and, as we should all know by now, he wasn't exactly the most stable dude who ever lived. That's why nobody can satisfactorily define fascism without writing a long, boring essay that nobody wants to read. Mussolini himself wrote his own attempt to define the ideology, "The Doctrine of Fascism," and it's a long rambling tract tossing in words like "nationalism" and "State" a lot, something about both socialism and capitalism being bad, and something about an active and spiritual lifestyle being better than "flabby materialistic positivism." Mussolini was just an extreme nationalist who made up whatever bullshit he thought would make postwar Italians like him. That's how he got power.
Mussolini Il Duce
Once Prime Minister, Mussolini gave himself a new title: "The Leader" or "Il Duce". He quickly set about reorganizing Italian society along the doctrine "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”
“”Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary.
|— Mussolini the "Iron Prefect"|
Mussolini wasted no time transforming Italy into a totalitarian dictatorship. This process was completed after he ordered the assassination of a prominent socialist leader for questioning the legitimacy of the 1924 elections; public outcry caused Mussolini to tighten the screws and declare Italy an official dictatorship. Indeed, there were election irregularities, and they were helped along by the recently passed Acerbo Law, which handed two-thirds of Italy's parliament seats to whichever party won any kind of majority. With this new power, Mussolini pushed everyone who didn't fully stand behind him out of Italy's political sphere.
Mussolini's followers pushed a law through Parliament allowing him to become immune to any attempts to remove him. He was consequently only answerable to the monarch, who had proven himself to be unwilling to say no to the fascists. This rapid consolidation of power added to Mussolini's image, and the successes of fascism were seen as entirely to the credit of Mussolini himself. This resulted in a full-blown cult of personality around the man, which only aided him in his quest to trample Italy. Fascists dismantled Italy's constitutional limits on power and erected a police state. Mussolini survived a series of assassination attempts, and responded by banning all political opposition, turning Italy into an official one-party state, rather than a de facto one.
Political opposition, even unorganized, was met with brutality. Blackshirts and Italy's secret police force (called the OVRA) maintained "order" by beating and imprisoning people who spoke against Il Duce. A popular form of punishment involved castor oil; fascist squads force-fed large quantities of castor oil to victims, causing excruciating pain and dangerously uncontrollable diarrhea. Prisons in Italy were squalid, and the fear of being arrested led many anti-fascists to flee the country. Despite this, Mussolini's Italy rarely displayed the kind of murderousness seen from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Mussolini may have reinstated the death penalty, but by 1940, he only authorized the executions of ten people. It was the constant atmosphere of fear that kept people in line.
One institution which drew Mussolini's keenest interest was education. Schools in Italy taught children to view Mussolini as the undeniable and eternal leader and to obey authorities without question. Other than this, boys and girls received very different curricula. Boys were trained to be future soldiers; this included mock military drills and the idea that schoolyard brawls were natural and should be rewarded. Boys were told to memorize the slogan, "I believe in Rome, the Eternal, the mother of my country… I believe in the genius of Mussolini… and in the resurrection of the Empire." Girls were trained to be wives and homemakers, and their only ambition permitted by schools was to marry and have children. A famous slogan from Italian schools was, "War is to the male what childbearing is to the female." Childbirth was pushed hard by fascist authorities. Mussolini believed that Italy needed a much larger population to support a larger army and industry. The minimum target for women was 5 children, and they were rewarded with tax benefits and proud meetings with Il Duce.
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.
Labor and economic policies
The general lack of consistency in Mussolini's ideology extends to his time as leader. A lot of his quasi-socialist rumblings from earlier were quickly kicked out of the car once it came to actual governance. 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. Trade union membership was made mandatory for all workers in the nation, but every one was nationalized, and the ability for workers to strike and negotiate was strongly curtailed. Since labor unions were a powerful force, the fascist government took the "divide and conquer" route by ordering industrialists in the nation to only recognize the state-controlled unions while cracking down on independent ones. The Labor Charter of 1927 instructed businesses to improve work conditions further limited the rights of workers to organize. Although the government intervened heavily in the economy, this was done through state-supported cartels, groups of corporations which grouped together to wield greater economic influence. Examples of this include the National Fascist Confederation of Industry, the National Fascist Confederation of Agriculture, the National Fascist Confederation of Commerce and the National Fascist Confederation of Banking.
The increasingly capitalist-friendly nature of Mussolini's regime can probably best be seen in the era of good relations between Italy and the United States during most of the 1920s. The Italian state and Italian businessmen sought loans from the US government while American capitalists poured more than $400 million of foreign investment into Mussolini's national coffers. The Great Depression finally stopped everyone from making money off each other and returned geopolitics to its regularly scheduled programming.
He also fully committed to his economic agenda by draining swamps and building railroads. This resulted in economic growth, and may have succeeded in fully modernizing the country had it not been for Italy's involvement in World War II. It has also 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. Most of the actual improvements were begun by the preceding government, and even then, Italy's rail system was pretty terrible.
Pre-WWII foreign policy
Mussolini's foreign policy for most of his early reign largely consisted of picking on smaller nations, but also saw some other enterprises.
The first major order of business came in 1929 when the Italian government signed the Lateran Treaty, setting up the Vatican City as an independent state. This was meant to resolve some ongoing stress Italy had been suffering since 1870, when the Papal States were formally annexed. The then-Pope and his successors refused to accept the destruction of their so-called "temporal power", and they used every means at their disposal to undermine the Italian state. The Popes described themselves as "prisoners in the Vatican." With the high number of Catholics in the Fascist Party, Mussolini figured that making peace with the Church would be a quick way to gain popularity. Thus the Lateran Treaty, which came in three parts: independence for the Vatican, reparations to the Church for past conflicts, and concessions allowing the Church to have great influence in Italian society and government. Unfortunately, the Lateran Treaty remains in effect, as an unlucky Italian comedienne discovered when she was almost prosecuted for "offending the honour of the sacred and inviolable person" of Pope Benedict XVI during a routine.
The first major upset from Mussolini, though, came from his assault on Ethiopia, largely to regain Italy's national prestige after an earlier failed colonial war against that same country. Mussolini also saw the enterprise as a way to acquire extra land for unemployed Italian farmers and acquire mineral resources to aid industrialization. This war is notable for the utter failure by the League of Nations to prevent violence, although a coordinated oil and coal embargo against Italy would likely have failed without German and American involvement. Italy also repeatedly committed war crimes, such as bombing hospitals and using chemical weapons. Overwhelming Italian air and ground superiority resulted in the war only lasting 8 months.
In 1939, Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, stunning the world and making Mussolini look like a has-been. Italy then decided it had to prove its strength as well by annexing another nation. Albania had long been coveted by Italian naval and army planners as an area of strategic importance, and the area had useful industrial resources. Mussolini presented Albania's King Zog with an ultimatum offering money in exchange for annexation, which he refused. This was followed with a rapid conquest aided by Italian agents embedded in Albania and that nation's general unpreparedness.
Of course, Mussolini's most important foreign relationship was with the big man himself: Hitler. For much of the early 1930s, the two men thought little of each other. Although Hitler looked up to Mussolini, the Italian thought of the German as an ignorant blowhard and disapproved of his racism. The chilly relations between the two nations was further demonstrated during a bout of political chaos in Austria in 1934, when Mussolini ordered troops to his northern border to prevent Hitler from Anschluss-ing the country. A later meeting between the two leaders went sour over the issue of Austria's independence. Italy's invasion of Ethiopia changed things. The efforts by Britain and France to prevent the annexation of the African country was viewed by Mussolini as a hypocritical move by the established imperialist powers to prevent Italy from achieving greatness. This distaste for the existing world order led Mussolini away from the Allies and into the warm embrace of Nazi Germany. After a series of agreements, the two nations formed the Axis Powers.
Mussolini the loooooooser
“”At first Hitler deferred to the Duce, the more senior dictator, and seemed genuinely to admire him. Later, and especially after Mussolini began to play second fiddle to Hitler as a war leader, summit meetings between the two men had consisted mainly of long monologues by Hitler, with Mussolini barely able to get in a word. At one memorable meeting in 1942, Hitler talked for an hour and forty minutes while General Jodl dozed off and Mussolini kept looking at his watch.
|—Ray Moseley, historian|
Italy entered World War II in June 1940 on the wrong side. Mussolini's late decision to enter the war was preceded by much hand-wringing over whether or not the agrarian, partially-industrialized Italy would be capable of fighting a modern war. These concerns were warranted. Although Mussolini publicly boasted of his military (3 million strong), he was privately aware that his soldiers were poorly equipped, not only due to the aforementioned industrial bottleneck, but also due to a lack of strategic resources and fascist Italy's bureaucratic inefficiency. Yeah, those trains really weren't running on time. Il Duce only joined the war after the Fall of Paris, causing Hitler to privately comment that, "First they were too cowardly to take part. Now they are in a hurry so that they can share in the spoils." Italy's prime targets for conquest were the Irredenta lands in France and colonial territory in Africa.
Things went rapidly downhill for them from there.
British raids struck unprepared Italian garrisons in Libya. Hitler responded by sending Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps, but even one of his most talented generals couldn't counterbalance the combined effect of bad terrain and poor supply. North Africa was lost after a failed attempt to invade Egypt.
As Italy's military command bickered and argued over how best to invade Greece, Mussolini jumped the gun and invaded the country in 1940 without even finalizing the strategies or informing Hitler of his plans beforehand. Of course, attacking a mountainous country during its rainy season without bothering to call up your own army chief of staff first is a bad idea, and that invasion was a predictable disaster. 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.
The loss of North Africa to the Allies, led by General Dwight Eisenhower, allowed the Allies to launch an invasion of Sicily. The swift conquest of the islands broke Mussolini's government. With American boots on core Italian land, King Victor Emmanuel III deposed Mussolini and had him arrested in July, 1943. The new Italian government declared war on Germany on behalf of the Allies. The Nazis sent their top man to launch a (actually pretty badass) commando rescue mission for Mussolini in 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. Hitler was unquestionably the dominant party in that arrangement, forcing Mussolini to adopt Nazi-style race laws and otherwise become Hitler's bitch. According to his diaries, Mussolini resented being the little wheel of the Axis even before the war.
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 and three lackeys, just one day prior to Hitler's suicide in Berlin. The national leaders who ride together, die together. In fact, it's possible that Mussolini's death helped cause Hitler's suicide. The humiliating circumstances around his ally's execution allegedly caused Hitler to declare, "This will never happen to me," and "I do not wish to fall into the hands of an enemy who requires a new spectacle organized by the Jews for the amusement of their hysterical masses." So if Mussolini helped bring about the death of Adolf Hitler, surely that should be a feather in his cap?
What a loser.
Mussolini, the best friend of Jonah Goldberg
A noted blowhard, Jonah Goldberg, 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."
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