by Navya Mohindra
Mussolini was an important figure in the history of fascism. He led Italy as their Prime Minister for almost two decades (1922-43) and also allied with Adolf Hitler in the Second World War. Let's analyze how he came into power and gained popularity in Italy.
Benito Mussolini was born on July 29,1883, in Verano di Costa, to a blacksmith named Alessandro Mussolini and a schoolteacher and devout Catholic named Rosa Maltoni.
The Mussolinis were an impecunious family of five. Discussing politics took up most of Allesandro’s time, and the money he earned was mostly spent on fulfilling his mistress’s needs, leaving his three children often sleeping with inadequate food.
Despite being intelligent, Benito was an unruly and belligerent child.
He was even expelled from his first boarding school for stabbing a classmate with a penknife first at the age of 10, then again at the age of 14.
As he grew older he developed a knack for political reasoning and a striking personality especially from reading more of philosophers and theorists Immanuel Kant, Benedict de Spinoza, Peter Kropotkin, Friedrich Nietzsche, G.W.F Hegel, Karl Kautsky, and Georges Sorel’s works.
Mussolini was a pro-socialist until 1914 when the party decided to declare neutrality in World War One. Being an esteemed journalist, Mussolini strongly advocated Italy’s involvement in the war in his newspaper.
He even served Italy when they joined the war on the side of the Allies in 1915. Though severely injured, Mussolini was extremely influenced by the war which led him to believe that war was a crucial part of a nation and that it would achieve greatness.
After the war, he joined the Italian Fascist Party.
The war promised new territories to the people and not acquiring them made the Italian middle class very disappointed. They were disenchanted by the government’s democratic model and felt that it wouldn’t truly unite them to establish world power.
The end of the war also led to an economic crisis in Italy, spreading unemployment and hunger. It wasn’t long before the Italian political class and King Emmanuel III became despised.
Mussolini being the cunning man he was, now, never missed an opportunity to condemn and criticize the political class making him well-liked amongst the people.
The lack of leadership worked in his favor, rapidly building up his popularity and power in the country. Terror and brutality were the ways of Mussolini and his Fascists.
Violence was used against anyone who opposed them simply to gain more control and spread terror.
One thing that the majority of Italians had in common was “the fear of communism”. Mussolini came as the anti-communist defender and savior of Italy, increasing his following.
However, his popularity didn’t help him win, at least constitutionally, yet Mussolini was hungry for power and would do just about anything to win.
The Fascists marched to Rome in thousands demanding that Mussolini become head of state. After a lot of uproar and chaos, King Emmanuel III dissolved his government and asked Mussolini to form a new one. Mussolini became the Prime Minister, Minister of Interior as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
As his first act as Prime Minister, Mussolini demanded a special emergency to rig the elections in his favor. Soon, being anti-fascist was a punishable offense leading to imprisonment without trial. Police started rounding up socialists.
Even children were roped into joining the fascists by pressurizing them to join a youth group called Opera Nazionale Balilla. Cinemas were commanded to screen government propaganda.
On top of that, fascists owned 66% of the newspapers and controlled journalism. People were free, yet they weren’t.
The Hitler alliance
Initially, Mussolini disapproved of Hitler, but as their partnership grew he became more fond of him and adopted Anti-Semetic measures as well.
In the Spanish Civil war (1936-39), both of them supported Francisco Franco, with Mussolini providing him 50,000 troops.
Soon after, Hitler occupied Poland, France, and Great Britain, declaring war on Germany. Italy took a neutral stance, but after Hitler and his forces invaded Denmark and Norway, and Mussolini was positive that Hitler would win the war.
So, on June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on France and Great Britain.
The Final Fall
After years of fighting in World War Two, Italy was losing on the battlefield. Even its citizens were accepting defeat. By now everybody was expecting Mussolini’s downfall.
On July 24, 1943, Mussolini was voted out of power by his own Grand Council and arrested at the steps of Villa Savoia after an audience with the king. Though rescued by Hitler, Mussolini never came back in power.
Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were executed on April 28, 1945, in Mezzegra, Italy, and their bodies were hung on display in a Milan plaza.
The Italian masses greeted Mussolini's death without regret. Mussolini had promised his people Roman glory, but his megalomania had overcome his common sense, bringing them only war and misery.
While Mussolini was supposed to be Italy’s savior and knight in shining armor, he was quite the opposite. Like Hitler, he was a man inspired by war, a man who expected peace from violence.