"Mussolini" redirects here. For other people named Mussolini, see .
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (; Italian: ; 29 July 1883 – 28 April 1945) was an Italian politician and journalist who was the leader of the (Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF). He ruled Italy as from 1922 to 1943; he constitutionally led the country until 1925, when he dropped the pretense of democracy and established a dictatorship.
Known as ("The Leader"), Mussolini was the founder of . In 1912, Mussolini had been a leading member of the National Directorate of the (PSI), but was expelled from the PSI for advocating military intervention in , in opposition to the party's stance on neutrality. Mussolini served in the during the war until he was wounded and discharged in 1917. Mussolini denounced the PSI, his views now centering on nationalism instead of socialism and later founded the fascist movement which came to oppose and , instead advocating "revolutionary " transcending class lines. Following the in October 1922, Mussolini became the youngest Prime Minister in Italian history until the appointment of in February 2014. After removing all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes, Mussolini and his followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a . Within five years, Mussolini had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means and aspired to create a state. Mussolini remained in power until he was deposed by King in 1943, but a few months later he became the leader of the , a German client regime in northern Italy – Mussolini held this post until his death in 1945.
Mussolini had sought to delay a major war in Europe, but Germany on 1 September 1939, resulting in declarations of war by France and the UK and the start of . On 10 June 1940—with the imminent—Italy officially entered the war on the side of Germany, though Mussolini was aware that Italy did not have the military capacity and resources to carry out a long war with the British Empire. He believed that after the imminent French armistice, Italy could gain territorial concessions from France, and he could then concentrate his forces on a major offensive in North Africa, where British and Commonwealth forces were outnumbered by Italian forces. However, the British government refused to accept proposals for a peace that would involve accepting victories in Eastern and Western Europe; plans for an invasion of the UK did not proceed and the war continued. In the summer of 1941, Mussolini sent Italian forces to participate in , and in December. In 1943, Italy suffered one disaster after another: by February the had completely destroyed the ; in May the ; on 9 July the ; and by the 16th it became clear the in the USSR had failed. As a consequence, early on 25 July, the passed a motion of no confidence for Mussolini; later that day dismissed him as and had him placed in custody, appointing to succeed him as Prime Minister. On 12 September 1943, Mussolini was rescued from captivity in the by and led by Major .
, after meeting with the rescued former dictator, then put Mussolini in charge of a puppet regime in northern Italy, the (: Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI), informally known as the Salò Republic. In late April 1945, in the wake of near total defeat, Mussolini and his mistress attempted to flee to Switzerland, but both were captured by Italian and by on 28 April 1945 near . His body was then taken to , where it was hung upside down at a to publicly confirm his demise.
Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883 in , a small town in the in . Later, during the Fascist era, Predappio was dubbed "Duce's town" and Forlì was called "Duce's city", with pilgrims going to Predappio and Forlì to see the birthplace of Mussolini.
Benito Mussolini's father, , was a and a socialist, while his mother, (née Maltoni), was a devout Catholic schoolteacher. Owing to his father's political leanings, Mussolini was named Benito after Mexican leftist president , while his middle names Andrea and Amilcare were from Italian socialists and . Benito was the eldest of his parents' three children. His siblings and Edvige followed.
As a young boy, Mussolini would spend some time helping his father in his smithy. Mussolini's early political views were heavily influenced by his father who idolized 19th-century figures with tendencies such as , and . His father's political outlook combined views of figures like and , the military of Garibaldi, and the nationalism of Mazzini. In 1902, at the anniversary of Garibaldi's death, Mussolini made a public speech in praise of the nationalist. The conflict between his parents about religion meant that, unlike most Italians, Mussolini was not baptized at birth and would not be until much later in life. As a compromise with his mother, Mussolini was sent to a run by monks. After joining a new school, Mussolini achieved good grades, and qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901.
In 1902, Mussolini to Switzerland, partly to avoid military service. He worked briefly as a in Geneva, and , but was unable to find a permanent job.
During this time he studied the ideas of the philosopher , the , and the . Mussolini also later credited the and the as some of his influences. Sorel's emphasis on the need for overthrowing decadent and capitalism by the use of violence, , the and the use of appeals to emotion, impressed Mussolini deeply.Mussolini's booking file following his arrest by the police on 19 June 1903, ,
Mussolini became active in the Italian socialist movement in Switzerland, working for the paper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore, organizing meetings, giving speeches to workers, and serving as secretary of the Italian workers' union in . reportedly introduced him to , who later criticized Italian socialists for having lost Mussolini from their cause. In 1903, he was arrested by the Bernese police because of his advocacy of a violent general strike, spent two weeks in jail, was deported to Italy, was set free there, and returned to Switzerland. In 1904, having been arrested again in Geneva and expelled for falsifying his papers, he returned to Lausanne, where he attended the 's Department of , following the lessons of . In 1937, the University of Lausanne awarded Mussolini an on the occasion of its 400th anniversary.
In December 1904, he returned to Italy to take advantage of an amnesty for desertion, for which he had been convicted in absentia.
Since a condition for being pardoned was serving in the army, he joined the corps of the in Forlì on 30 December 1904. After serving for two years in the military (from January 1905 until September 1906), he returned to teaching.
In February 1909, Mussolini once again left Italy, this time to take the job as the secretary of the labor party in the Italian-speaking city of , which at the time was part of . He also did office work for the local Socialist Party, and edited its newspaper L'Avvenire del Lavoratore (The Future of the Worker). Returning to Italy, he spent a brief time in Milan, and then in 1910 he returned to his hometown of Forlì, where he edited the weekly Lotta di classe (The Class Struggle).
Mussolini thought of himself as an intellectual and was considered to be well-read. He read avidly, his favorites in European philosophy included Sorel, the Italian Futurist , French Socialist , Italian anarchist and German philosophers and , the founders of . Mussolini had taught himself French and German and translated excerpts from Nietzsche, and .A portrait of Mussolini during early
During this time, he published Il Trentino veduto da un Socialista ( as seen by a Socialist) in the radical periodical La Voce. He also wrote several essays about German literature, some stories, and one novel: L'amante del Cardinale: Claudia Particella, romanzo storico (The Cardinal's Mistress). This novel he co-wrote with Santi Corvaja, and was published as a serial book in the Trento newspaper Il Popolo. It was released in installments from 20 January to 11 May 1910. The novel was bitterly anticlerical, and years later was withdrawn from circulation after Mussolini made a truce with the Vatican.
By now, he was one of Italy's most prominent socialists. In September 1911, Mussolini participated in a riot, led by socialists, against the Italian . He bitterly denounced Italy's "imperialist war", an action that earned him a five-month jail term. After his release he helped expel from the Socialist Party two "" who had supported the war, and . As a result, he was rewarded the editorship of the Socialist Party newspaper Under his leadership, its circulation soon rose from 20,000 to 100,000. in 1940 called him "one of the best journalists alive"; he was a working reporter while preparing for the March on Rome, and wrote for the until 1935. Mussolini was so familiar with Marxist literature that in his own writings he would not only quote from well-known Marxist works but also from the relatively obscure works. During this period, Mussolini, like all revolutionaries, considered himself a Marxist and he described Marx as "the greatest of all theorists of socialism."
In 1913, he published Giovanni Hus, il veridico (Jan Hus, true prophet), an historical and political biography about the life and mission of the Czech ecclesiastic reformer and his militant followers, the . During this socialist period of his life, Mussolini sometimes used the pen name "Vero Eretico" ("sincere heretic").
Mussolini rejected , a core doctrine of socialism. He was influenced by Nietzsche's anti-Christian ideas and . Mussolini felt that socialism had faltered, in view of the failures of Marxist and , and believed that Nietzsche's ideas would strengthen socialism. While associated with socialism, Mussolini's writings eventually indicated that he had abandoned Marxism and egalitarianism in favor of Nietzsche's concept and anti-egalitarianism.
A number of socialist parties initially supported at the time it began in August 1914. Once the war started, Austrian, British, French, and German socialists followed the rising nationalist current by supporting their country's intervention in the war. The outbreak of the war had resulted in a surge of and the war was supported by a variety of political factions. One of the most prominent and popular Italian nationalist supporters of the war was who promoted and helped sway the Italian public to support intervention in the war. The under the leadership of promoted intervention in the war on the side of the Allies and utilized the to promote Italian nationalism. Italian socialists were divided on whether to support the war or oppose it. Prior to Mussolini taking a position on the war, a number of revolutionary had announced their support of intervention, including , , and . The decided to oppose the war after anti-militarist protestors had been killed, resulting in a general strike called .
Mussolini initially held official support for the party's decision and, in an August 1914 article, Mussolini wrote "Down with the War. We remain neutral." He saw the war as an opportunity, both for his own ambitions as well as those of socialists and Italians. He was influenced by Italian nationalist sentiments, believing that the war offered Italians in Austria-Hungary the chance to liberate themselves from rule of the . He eventually decided to declare support for the war by appealing to the need for socialists to overthrow the and Habsburg monarchies in Germany and Austria-Hungary who he said had consistently repressed socialism.Members of Italy's corps in 1918 holding daggers, a symbol of their group. The Arditi's black uniform and use of the fez were adopted by Mussolini in the creation of his Fascist movement.
Mussolini further justified his position by denouncing the for being powers; for pursuing designs against Belgium and Serbia as well as historically against Denmark, France, and against Italians, since hundreds of thousands of Italians were under Habsburg rule. He argued that the fall of Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies and the repression of "reactionary" Turkey would create conditions beneficial for the working class. While he was supportive of the Entente powers, Mussolini responded to the conservative nature of by stating that the mobilization required for the war would undermine Russia's reactionary authoritarianism and the war would bring Russia to social revolution. He said that for Italy the war would complete the process of by uniting the Italians in Austria-Hungary into Italy and by allowing the common people of Italy to be participating members of the Italian nation in what would be Italy's first national war. Thus he claimed that the vast social changes that the war could offer meant that it should be supported as a revolutionary war.
As Mussolini's support for the intervention solidified, he came into conflict with socialists who opposed the war. He attacked the opponents of the war and claimed that those proletarians who supported were out of step with the proletarians who had joined the rising interventionist that was preparing Italy for a revolutionary war. He began to criticize the Italian Socialist Party and socialism itself for having failed to recognize the national problems that had led to the outbreak of the war. He was expelled from the party for his support of intervention.
The following excerpts are from a police report prepared by the Inspector-General of Public Security in Milan, G. Gasti, that describe his background and his position on the First World War that resulted in his ousting from the Italian Socialist Party. The Inspector General wrote:
Professor Benito Mussolini, ... 38, revolutionary socialist, has a police record; elementary school teacher qualified to teach in secondary schools; former first secretary of the Chambers in Cesena, Forlì, and Ravenna; after 1912 editor of the newspaper Avanti! to which he gave a violent suggestive and intransigent orientation. In October 1914, finding himself in opposition to the directorate of the Italian Socialist party because he advocated a kind of active neutrality on the part of Italy in the War of the Nations against the party's tendency of absolute neutrality, he withdrew on the twentieth of that month from the directorate of Avanti! Then on the fifteenth of November , thereafter, he initiated publication of the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia, in which he supported – in sharp contrast to Avanti! and amid bitter polemics against that newspaper and its chief backers – the thesis of Italian intervention in the war against the militarism of the Central Empires. For this reason he was accused of moral and political unworthiness and the party thereupon decided to expel him ... Thereafter he ... undertook a very active campaign in behalf of Italian intervention, participating in demonstrations in the piazzas and writing quite violent articles in Popolo d'Italia ...
In his summary, the Inspector also noted:
He was the ideal editor of Avanti! for the Socialists. In that line of work he was greatly esteemed and beloved. Some of his former comrades and admirers still confess that there was no one who understood better how to interpret the spirit of the proletariat and there was no one who did not observe his apostasy with sorrow. This came about not for reasons of self-interest or money. He was a sincere and passionate advocate, first of vigilant and armed neutrality, and later of war; and he did not believe that he was compromising with his personal and political honesty by making use of every means – no matter where they came from or wherever he might obtain them – to pay for his newspaper, his program and his line of action. This was his initial line. It is difficult to say to what extent his socialist convictions (which he never either openly or privately abjure) may have been sacrificed in the course of the indispensable financial deals which were necessary for the continuation of the struggle in which he was engaged ... But assuming these modifications did take place ... he always wanted to give the appearance of still being a socialist, and he fooled himself into thinking that this was the case.
After being ousted by the Italian Socialist Party for his support of Italian intervention, Mussolini made a radical transformation, ending his support for and joining in support of revolutionary nationalism transcending class lines. He formed the interventionist newspaper and the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista ("Revolutionary for International Action") in October 1914. His nationalist support of intervention enabled him to raise funds from (an armaments firm) and other companies to create Il Popolo d'Italia to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war. Further funding for Mussolini's Fascists during the war came from French sources, beginning in May 1915. A major source of this funding from France is believed to have been from French socialists who sent support to dissident socialists who wanted Italian intervention on France's side.
On 5 December 1914, Mussolini denounced for failing to recognize that the war had made national identity and loyalty more significant than class distinction. He fully demonstrated his transformation in a speech that acknowledged the nation as an entity, a notion he had rejected prior to the war, saying:
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.
The class struggle is a vain formula, without effect and consequence wherever one finds a people that has not integrated itself into its proper linguistic and racial confines—where the national problem has not been definitely resolved. In such circumstances the class movement finds itself impaired by an inauspicious historic climate.
Mussolini continued to promote the need of a revolutionary vanguard elite to lead society. He no longer advocated a proletarian vanguard, but instead a vanguard led by dynamic and revolutionary people of any social class. Though he denounced orthodox socialism and class conflict, he maintained at the time that he was a nationalist socialist and a supporter of the legacy of nationalist socialists in Italy's history, such as , , and . As for the Italian Socialist Party and its support of orthodox socialism, he claimed that his failure as a member of the party to revitalize and transform it to recognize the contemporary reality revealed the hopelessness of orthodox socialism as outdated and a failure. This perception of the failure of orthodox socialism in the light of the outbreak of World War I was not solely held by Mussolini; other pro-interventionist Italian socialists such as and had also denounced classical in favor of intervention.
These basic political views and principles formed the basis of Mussolini's newly formed political movement, the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista in 1914, who called themselves Fascisti (Fascists). At this time, the Fascists did not have an integrated set of policies and the movement was small, ineffective in its attempts to hold mass meetings, and was regularly harassed by government authorities and orthodox socialists. Antagonism between the interventionists, including the Fascists, versus the anti-interventionist orthodox socialists resulted in violence between the Fascists and socialists. The opposition and attacks by the anti-interventionist revolutionary socialists against the Fascists and other interventionists were so violent that even who opposed the war such as said that the Italian Socialist Party had gone too far in a campaign of silencing the freedom of speech of supporters of the war. These early hostilities between the Fascists and the revolutionary socialists shaped Mussolini's conception of the nature of Fascism in its support of political violence.
Mussolini became an ally with the politician and journalist and—like him—entered the Army and served in the war. "He was sent to the zone of operations where he was seriously injured by the explosion of a grenade."
The Inspector General continued:
He was promoted to the rank of corporal "for merit in war". The promotion was recommended because of his exemplary conduct and fighting quality, his mental calmness and lack of concern for discomfort, his zeal and regularity in carrying out his assignments, where he was always first in every task involving labor and fortitude.
Mussolini's military experience is told in his work Diario di guerra. Overall, he totaled about nine months of active, front-line trench warfare. During this time, he contracted . His military exploits ended in 1917 when he was wounded accidentally by the explosion of a mortar bomb in his trench. He was left with at least 40 shards of metal in his body. He was discharged from the hospital in August 1917 and resumed his editor-in-chief position at his new paper, Il Popolo d'Italia. He wrote there positive articles about in Italy.
On 25 December 1915, in , he contracted a marriage with his fellow countrywoman Rachele Guidi, who had already borne him a daughter, Edda, at Forlì in 1910. In 1915, he had a son with , a woman born in Sopramonte, a village near Trento. He legally recognized this son on 11 January 1916.
Main articles: and
By the time he returned from service in the forces of World War I, very little remained of Mussolini the socialist. Indeed, he was now convinced that socialism as a doctrine had largely been a failure. In 1917 Mussolini got his start in politics with the help of a £100 weekly wage (the equivalent of £6000 as of 2009) from the British security service , to keep anti-war protestors at home and to publish pro-war propaganda. This help was authorized by . In early 1918 Mussolini called for the emergence of a man "ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep" to revive the Italian nation. Much later Mussolini said he felt by 1919 "Socialism as a doctrine was already dead; it continued to exist only as a grudge". On 23 March 1919 Mussolini re-formed the Milan as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad), consisting of 200 members.The platform of Fasci italiani di combattimento, as published in "" on 6 June 1919 Italia Irredenta: regions considered Italian for ethnic, geographic or historical reasons, and claimed by the Fascists in the 1930s: green: Nice, Ticino, and Dalmatia; red: Malta; violet: later claims extended to Corsica, Savoy and Corfu.
The ideological basis for fascism came from a number of sources. Mussolini utilized works of , , , and the economic ideas of , to develop fascism. Mussolini admired Plato's , which he often read for inspiration.The Republic expounded a number of ideas that fascism promoted, such as rule by an elite promoting the state as the ultimate end, opposition to democracy, protecting the class system and promoting class collaboration, rejection of egalitarianism, promoting the militarization of a nation by creating a class of warriors, demanding that citizens perform civic duties in the interest of the state, and utilizing state intervention in education to promote the development of warriors and future rulers of the state.The Republic differed from fascism in that it did not promote aggressive war, but only defensive war. Also unlike fascism, it promoted very communist-like views on property. Plato was an idealist, focused on achieving justice and morality, while Mussolini and fascism were realist, focused on achieving political goals.
The idea behind Mussolini's foreign policy was that of (vital space), a concept in Fascism that was analogous to in German National Socialism. The concept of spazio vitale was first announced in 1919, when the entire , especially so-called , was redefined to make it appear a unified region that had belonged to Italy from the times of the , and was claimed as Italy's exclusive sphere of influence. The right to colonize the neighboring and the Mediterranean, being inhabited by what were alleged to be less developed peoples, was justified on the grounds that Italy was allegedly suffering from overpopulation.
Borrowing the idea first developed by before 1914 of the natural conflict between "" nations like Britain and "proletarian" nations like Italy, Mussolini claimed that Italy's principal problem was that "plutocratic" countries like Britain were blocking Italy from achieving the necessary spazio vitale that would let the Italian economy grow. Mussolini equated a nation's potential for economic growth with territorial size, thus in his view the problem of poverty in Italy could only be solved by winning the necessary spazio vitale.
Though was less prominent in Fascism than in , right from the start the spazio vitale concept had a strong racist undercurrent. Mussolini asserted there was a "natural law" for stronger peoples to subject and dominate "inferior" peoples such as the "barbaric" Slavic peoples of Yugoslavia. He stated in a September 1920 speech:
When dealing with such a race as Slavic – inferior and barbarian – we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy ... We should not be afraid of new victims ... The Italian border should run across the , and the ... I would say we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians ...
— Benito Mussolini, speech held in , 20 September 1920
While Italy occupied former areas between years 1918 and 1920, five hundred "Slav" societies (for example ) and slightly smaller number of libraries ("reading rooms") had been forbidden, specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926) – the closure of the classical lyceum in Pazin, of the high school in Voloska (1918), and the five hundred Slovene and Croatian primary schools followed. One thousand "Slav" teachers were forcibly exiled to Sardinia and to .Mussolini, circa 1920
In the same way, Mussolini argued that Italy was right to follow an policy in Africa because he saw all black people as "inferior" to whites. Mussolini claimed that the world was divided into a hierarchy of races (stirpe, though this was justified more on cultural than on biological grounds), and that history was nothing more than a struggle for power and territory between various "racial masses". Mussolini saw high birthrates in Africa and Asia as a threat to the "white race" and he often asked the rhetorical question "Are the blacks and yellows at the door?" to be followed up with "Yes, they are!". Mussolini believed that the United States was doomed as the American blacks had a higher birthrate than whites, making it inevitable that the blacks would take over the United States to drag it down to their level. The very fact that Italy was suffering from overpopulation was seen as proving the cultural and spiritual vitality of the Italians, who were thus justified in seeking to colonize lands that Mussolini argued – on a historical basis – belonged to Italy anyway, which was the heir to the . In Mussolini's thinking, was destiny; nations with rising populations were nations destined to conquer; and nations with falling populations were decaying powers that deserved to die. Hence, the importance of to Mussolini, since only by increasing the birth rate could Italy ensure that its future as a great power that would win its spazio vitale would be assured. By Mussolini's reckoning, the Italian population had to reach 60 million to enable Italy to fight a major war—hence his relentless demands for Italian women to have more children in order to reach that number.
Mussolini and the fascists managed to be simultaneously and ; because this was vastly different from anything else in the political climate of the time, it is sometimes described as "The Third Way". The Fascisti, led by one of Mussolini's close confidants, , formed armed squads of war veterans called (or ) with the goal of restoring order to the streets of Italy with a strong hand. The blackshirts clashed with communists, socialists, and anarchists at parades and demonstrations; all of these factions were also involved in clashes against each other. The Italian government rarely interfered with the blackshirts' actions, owing in part to a looming threat and widespread fear of a communist revolution. The Fascisti grew rapidly; within two years they transformed themselves into the at a congress in Rome. , Mussolini won election to the for the first time. In the meantime, from about 1911 until 1938, Mussolini had various with the Jewish author and academic , called the "Jewish Mother of Fascism" at the time.
In the night between 27 and 28 October 1922, about 30,000 Fascist blackshirts gathered in Rome to demand the resignation of liberal Prime Minister and the appointment of a new Fascist government. On the morning of 28 October, , who according to the held the supreme military power, refused the government request to declare , which led to Facta's resignation. The King then handed over power to Mussolini (who stayed in his headquarters in Milan during the talks) by asking him to form a new government. The King's controversial decision has been explained by historians as a combination of delusions and fears; Mussolini enjoyed wide support in the military and among the industrial and agrarian elites, while the King and the conservative establishment were afraid of a possible civil war and ultimately thought they could use Mussolini to restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.
As Prime Minister, the first years of Mussolini's rule were characterized by a right-wing coalition government composed of Fascists, nationalists, liberals, and two Catholic clerics from the . The Fascists made up a small minority in his original governments. Mussolini's domestic goal was the eventual establishment of a state with himself as supreme leader (), a message that was articulated by the Fascist newspaper , which was now edited by Mussolini's brother, . To that end, Mussolini obtained from the legislature dictatorial powers for one year (legal under the Italian constitution of the time). He favored the complete restoration of state authority, with the integration of the Fasci di Combattimento into the armed forces (the foundation in January 1923 of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale) and the progressive identification of the party with the state. In political and social economy, he passed legislation that favored the wealthy industrial and agrarian classes (privatizations, liberalizations of rent laws and dismantlement of the unions).
In 1923, Mussolini sent Italian forces to invade during the . In the end, the proved powerless, and Greece was forced to comply with Italian demands. Writing of Mussolini's foreign policy, the American historian said:
If the new regime Benito Mussolini installed in 1922 on the ruins of the old glorified war as a sign of vitality and repudiated pacifism as a form of decay, the lesson drawn from the terrible battles against Austria on the Isonzo river—in which the Italians fought far better than popular imagination often allows—was that the tremendous material and technical preparations needed for modern war were simply beyond the contemporary capacity of the country. This was almost certainly a correct perception, but, given the ideology of Fascism with its emphasis on the moral benefits of war, it did not lead to the conclusion that an Italy without a big stick had best speak very, very softly. On the contrary, the new regime drew the opposite conclusion. Noisy eloquence and rabid journalism might be substituted for serious preparations for war, a procedure that was harmless enough if no one took any of it seriously, but a certain road to disaster once some outside and Mussolini inside the country came to believe that the "eight million bayonets" of the Duce's imagination actually existed.
In June 1923, the government passed the , which transformed Italy into a single national constituency. It also granted a two-thirds majority of the seats in Parliament to the party or group of parties that received at least 25% of the votes. This law applied in . The national alliance, consisting of Fascists, most of the old Liberals and others, won 64% of the vote.
The assassination of the socialist deputy , who had requested that the elections be because of the irregularities, provoked a momentary crisis in the Mussolini government. Mussolini ordered a cover-up, but witnesses saw the car that transported Matteotti's body parked outside Matteotti's residence, which linked to the murder.
Mussolini later confessed that a few resolute men could have altered public opinion and started a coup that would have swept fascism away. Dumini was imprisoned for two years. On his release, Dumini allegedly told other people that Mussolini was responsible, for which he served further prison time.
The opposition parties responded weakly or were generally unresponsive. Many of the socialists, liberals, and moderates boycotted Parliament in the , hoping to force Victor Emmanuel to dismiss Mussolini.
On 31 December 1924, consuls met with Mussolini and gave him an ultimatum: crush the opposition or they would do so without him. Fearing a revolt by his own militants, Mussolini decided to drop all pretense of democracy. On 3 January 1925, Mussolini made a truculent speech before the Chamber in which he took responsibility for squadristi violence (though he did not mention the assassination of Matteotti). He did not abolish the squadristi until 1927, however.
German-American historian has argued that Mussolini was responsible for an integrated suite of political innovations that made fascism a powerful force in Europe. First, he went beyond the vague promise of future national renewal, and proved the movement could actually seize power and operate a comprehensive government in a major country along fascist lines. Second, the movement claimed to represent the entire national community, not a fragment such as the working class or the aristocracy. He made a significant effort to include the previously alienated Catholic element. He defined public roles for the main sectors of the business community rather than allowing it to operate backstage. Third, he developed a cult of one-man leadership that focused media attention and national debate on his own personality. As a former journalist, Mussolini proved highly adept at exploiting all forms of mass media, including such new forms as motion pictures and radio. Fourth, he created a mass membership party, with free programs for young men, young women, and various other groups who could therefore be more readily mobilized and monitored. He shut down all alternative political formations and parties (but this step was not an innovation by any means). Like all dictators he made liberal use of the threat of extrajudicial violence, as well as actual violence by his Blackshirts, to frighten his opposition.
Between 1925 and 1927, Mussolini progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power and built a . A law passed on 24 December 1925 – Christmas Eve for the largely country – changed Mussolini's formal title from "President of the Council of Ministers" to "Head of the Government", although he was still called "Prime Minister" by most non-Italian news sources. He was no longer responsible to Parliament and could be removed only by the King. While the stated that ministers were responsible only to the sovereign, in practice it had become all but impossible to govern against the express will of Parliament. The Christmas Eve law ended this practice, and also made Mussolini the only person competent to determine the body's agenda. This law transformed Mussolini's government into a de facto legal dictatorship. Local autonomy was abolished, and appointed by the replaced elected mayors and councils.
On 7 April 1926, Mussolini survived a first assassination attempt by , an Irish woman and daughter of , who was deported after her arrest. On 31 October 1926, 15-year-old attempted to shoot Mussolini in Bologna. Zamboni was on the spot. Mussolini also survived a failed assassination attempt in Rome by anarchist , and a planned attempt by the Italian anarchist , which ended with Schirru's capture and execution.
All other parties were outlawed following Zamboni's assassination attempt in 1926, though in practice Italy had been a since 1925 (with either his January speech to the Chamber or the passage of the Christmas Eve law, depending on the source). In the same year, an electoral law abolished parliamentary elections. Instead, the selected a single list of candidates to be approved by . The Grand Council had been created five years earlier as a party body but was "constitutionalized" and became the highest constitutional authority in the state. On paper, the Grand Council had the power to recommend Mussolini's removal from office, and was thus theoretically the only check on his power. However, only Mussolini could summon the Grand Council and determine its agenda. To gain control of the South, especially , he appointed as a Prefect of the city of Palermo, with the charge of eradicating at any price. In the telegram, Mussolini wrote to Mori:
Your Excellency has carte blanche; the authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. If the laws still in force hinder you, this will be no problem, as we will draw up new laws.
Mori did not hesitate to lay siege to towns, using torture, and holding women and children as hostages to oblige suspects to give themselves up. These harsh methods earned him the nickname of "Iron Prefect". In 1927, Mori's inquiries brought evidence of collusion between and the Fascist establishment, and he was dismissed for length of service in 1929, at which time the number of murders in had decreased from 200 to 23. Mussolini nominated Mori as a senator, and fascist propaganda claimed that the Mafia had been defeated.
In 1919, the Italian state had brought in a series of liberal reforms in Libya that allowed education in Arabic and Berber and allowed for the possibility that the Libyans might become Italian citizens., who had been appointed governor in 1921 was retained by Mussolini, and withdrew all of the measures offering equality to the Libyans. A policy of confiscating land from the Libyans to hand over to Italian colonists gave new vigor to Libyan resistance led by , and during the ensuing "", the Fascist regime waged a near-genocidal campaign designed to kill as many Libyans as possible. Well over half the population of Cyrenaica were confined to 15 concentration camps by 1931 while the Royal Italian Air Force staged chemical warfare attacks against the Bedouin. On 20 June 1930, Marshal wrote to General :
As for overall strategy, it is necessary to create a significant and clear separation between the controlled population and the rebel formations. I do not hide the significance and seriousness of this measure, which might be the ruin of the subdued population ... But now the course has been set, and we must carry it out to the end, even if the entire population of Cyrenaica must perish.
On 3 January 1933, Mussolini told the diplomat Baron Pompei Aloisi that the French in Tunisia had made an "appalling blunder" by permitting sex between the French and the Tunisians, which he predicted would lead to the French degenerating into a nation of "", and to prevent the same thing happening to the Italians gave orders to Marshal Badoglio that be made a crime in Libya.
Mussolini launched several public construction programs and government initiatives throughout Italy to combat economic setbacks or unemployment levels. His earliest (and one of the best known) was the Battle for Wheat, by which 5,000 new farms were established and five new agricultural towns (among them and ) on land reclaimed by draining the . In , a model agricultural town was founded and named Mussolinia, but has long since been renamed . This town was the first of what Mussolini hoped would have been thousands of new agricultural settlements across the country. The Battle for Wheat diverted valuable resources to wheat production away from other more economically viable crops. Landowners grew wheat on unsuitable soil using all the advances of modern science, and although the wheat harvest increased, prices rose, consumption fell and high were imposed. The tariffs promoted widespread inefficiencies and the government given to farmers pushed the country further into debt.The inauguration of Littoria in 1932
Mussolini also initiated the "Battle for Land", a policy based on outlined in 1928. The initiative had a mixed success; while projects such as the draining of the Pontine Marsh in 1935 for agriculture were good for propaganda purposes, provided work for the and allowed for great land owners to control subsidies, other areas in the Battle for Land were not very successful. This program was inconsistent with the Battle for Wheat (small plots of land were inappropriately allocated for large-scale wheat production), and the Pontine Marsh was lost during World War II. Fewer than 10,000 resettled on the redistributed land, and poverty remained high. The Battle for Land initiative was abandoned in 1940.
In 1930, in the Doctrine of Fascism he wrote, "The so-called crisis can only be settled by State action and within the orbit of the State." He tried to combat by introducing a "Gold for the Fatherland" initiative, encouraging the public to voluntarily donate to government officials in exchange for steel bearing the words "Gold for the Fatherland". Even donated her wedding ring. The collected gold was melted down and turned into gold bars, which were then distributed to the .
Government control of business was part of Mussolini's policy planning. By 1935, he claimed that three-quarters of Italian businesses were under state control. Later that year, Mussolini issued several edicts to further control the economy, e.g. forcing banks, businesses, and private citizens to surrender all foreign-issued stock and bond holdings to the Bank of Italy. In 1936, he imposed . He also attempted to turn Italy into a self-sufficient , instituting high barriers on trade with most countries except Germany.
In 1943, Mussolini proposed the theory of economic socialization.
Main article:Propaganda poster of Mussolini with the caption: "His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Leader of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire..." From 1925, Mussolini styled himself (the leader)
Mussolini's foremost priority was the subjugation of the minds of the Italian people through the use of . The regime promoted a lavish centered on the figure of Mussolini. He pretended to incarnate the new fascist , promoting an aesthetic of exasperated that attributed to him quasi-divine capacities. At various times after 1922, Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, colonies, corporations, defense, and public works. Sometimes he held as many as seven departments simultaneously, as well as the premiership. He was also head of the all-powerful Fascist Party and the armed local fascist militia, the or "Blackshirts", who terrorized incipient resistance in the cities and provinces. He would later form the , an institutionalized that carried official state support. In this way he succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival.
Mussolini also portrayed himself as a valiant sportsman and a skilled musician. All teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the fascist regime. Newspaper editors were all personally chosen by Mussolini, and only those in possession of a certificate of approval from the Fascist Party could practice journalism. These certificates were issued in secret; Mussolini thus skillfully created the illusion of a "free press". The trade unions were also deprived of any independence and were integrated into what was called the . The aim, inspired by medieval and never completely achieved, was to place all Italians in various professional organizations or corporations, all under clandestine governmental control.
Large sums of money were spent on highly visible public works and on international prestige projects. Thes included as the ocean liner ; setting aeronautical records with the world's fastest , the ; and the transatlantic flying boat cruise of , which was greeted with much fanfare in the United States when it landed in Chicago in 1933.
The principles of the were laid down in an article by eminent philosopher and Mussolini himself that appeared in 1932 in the . Mussolini always portrayed himself as an intellectual, and some historians agree. Gunther called him "easily the best educated and most sophisticated of the dictators", and the only national leader of 1940 who was an intellectual. German historian said that "His command of contemporary philosophy and political literature was at least as great as that of any other contemporary European political leader."
Nationalists in the years after World War I thought of themselves as combating the liberal and domineering institutions created by —such as those of , including traditional schooling. , a revolutionary which would serve as a catalyst for Fascism, argued for "a school for physical courage and patriotism", as expressed by in 1919. Marinetti expressed his disdain for "the by now prehistoric and and courses", arguing for their replacement with exercise modelled on those of the soldiers ("[learning] to advance on hands and knees in front of razing machine gun fire; to wait open-eyed for a crossbeam to move sideways over their heads etc."). It was in those years that the first Fascist youth wings were formed: (Fascist Youth Vanguards) in 1919, and Gruppi Universitari Fascisti (Fascist University Groups) in 1922.
After the March on Rome that brought Mussolini to power, the Fascists started considering ways to politicize Italian society, with an accent on education. Mussolini assigned former and deputy-secretary for Education the task of "reorganizing the youth from a moral and physical point of view." Ricci sought inspiration with , the founder of , meeting with him in England, as well as with artists in Germany. The was created through Mussolini's decree of 3 April 1926, and was led by Ricci for the following eleven years. It included children between the ages of 8 and 18, grouped as the Balilla and the Avanguardisti.Colorized photograph of Mussolini wearing the uniform
According to Mussolini: "Fascist education is moral, physical, social, and military: it aims to create a complete and harmoniously developed human, a fascist one according to our views". Mussolini structured this process taking in view the emotional side of childhood: "Childhood and adolescence alike ... cannot be fed solely by concerts, theories, and abstract teaching. The truth we aim to teach them should appeal foremost to their fantasy, to their hearts, and only then to their minds".
The "educational value set through action and example" was to replace the established approaches. Fascism opposed its version of to prevalent , and used the Opera Nazionale Balilla to circumvent educational tradition by imposing the collective and hierarchy, as well as Mussolini's own .
Another important constituent of the Fascist cultural policy was . In 1929, a concordat with the was signed, ending decades of struggle between the Italian state and the that dated back to the 1870 takeover of the by the during the . The , by which the Italian state was at last recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and the independence of Vatican City was recognized by the Italian state, were so much appreciated by the ecclesiastic hierarchy that Pope acclaimed Mussolini as "the Man of Providence".
The 1929 treaty included a legal provision whereby the Italian government would protect the honor and dignity of the Pope by prosecuting offenders. In 1927, Mussolini was re- by a Roman Catholic priest. After 1929, Mussolini, with his anti-Communist doctrines, convinced many Catholics to actively support him.
In foreign policy, Mussolini was pragmatic and opportunistic. At the center of his vision lay the dream to forge a new in Africa and the , vindicating the so-called "" of 1918 imposed by the "plutodemocracies" (Britain and France) that betrayed the and usurped the supposed "natural right" of Italy to achieve supremacy in the Mediterranean basin. However, in the 1920s, given Germany's weakness, post-war reconstruction problems and the , the situation of Europe was too unfavorable to advocate an openly revisionist approach to the . In the 1920s, Italy's foreign policy was based on the traditional idea of Italy maintaining "equidistant" stance from all the major powers in order to exercise "determinant weight", which by whatever power Italy chose to align with would decisively change the balance of power in Europe, and the price of such an alignment would be support for Italian ambitions in Europe and Africa. In the meantime, since for Mussolini demography was destiny, he carried out relentless natalist policies designed to increase the birthrate; for example, in 1924 making advocating or giving information about contraception a criminal offense, and in 1926 ordering every Italian woman to double the number of children that they were willing to bear. For Mussolini, Italy's current population of 40 million was insufficient to fight a major war, and he needed to increase the population to at least 60 million Italians before he would be ready for war.
In his early years in power, Mussolini operated as a pragmatic statesman, trying to achieve some advantages, but never at the risk of war with Britain and France. An exception was the bombardment and occupation of in 1923, following an in which Italian military personnel charged by the to settle a boundary dispute between Greece and Albania were assassinated by bandits; the nationality of the bandits remains unclear. At the time of the Corfu incident, Mussolini was prepared to go to war with Britain, and only desperate pleading by the Italian Navy leadership, who argued that the Italian Navy was no match for the British Royal Navy, persuaded Mussolini to accept a diplomatic solution. In a secret speech to the Italian military leadership in January 1925, Mussolini argued that Italy needed to win spazio vitale, and as such his ultimate goal was to join "the two shores of the Mediterranean and of the Indian Ocean into a single Italian territory". Reflecting his obsession with demography, Mussolini went on to say that Italy did not at the present possess sufficient manpower to win a war against Britain or France, and that the time for war would come sometime in the mid-1930s, when Mussolini calculated the high Italian birth rate would finally give Italy the necessary numbers to win. Subsequently, Mussolini took part in the of 1925, that guaranteed the western borders of Germany as drawn in 1919. In 1929, Mussolini ordered his Army General Staff to begin planning for aggression against France and Yugoslavia. In July 1932, Mussolini sent a message to German Defense Minister General , suggesting an anti-French Italo-German alliance, an offer Schleicher responded to favorably, albeit with the condition that Germany needed to rearm first. In late 1932–early 1933, Mussolini planned to launch a surprise attack against both France and Yugoslavia that was to begin in August 1933. Mussolini's planned war of 1933 was only stopped when he learned that the French had broken the Italian military codes, and that the French, being forewarned of all the Italian plans, were well prepared for the Italian attack.
After came into power, threatening Italian interests in Austria and the Danube basin, Mussolini proposed the with Britain, France and Germany in 1933. When the Austrian 'austro-fascist' Chancellor with dictatorial power was assassinated on 25 July 1934 by National-Socialist supporters, Mussolini even threatened Germany with war in the event of a German invasion of Austria. Mussolini for a period of time continued strictly opposing any German attempt to obtain and promoted the ephemeral against Germany in 1935.
Despite Mussolini's imprisonment for opposing the Italo-Turkish War in Africa as "nationalist " and "a miserable war of conquest", after the of 1935–1936, in the Italy invaded following border incidents occasioned by Italian inclusions over the vaguely drawn border between Ethiopia and . Historians are still divided about the reasons for the attack on Ethiopia in 1935. Some Italian historians such as Franco Catalano and Giorgio Rochat argue that the invasion was an act of , contending that the had badly damaged Mussolini's prestige, and that he needed a foreign war to distract public opinion. Other historians such as Pietro Pastorelli have argued that the invasion was launched as part of an expansionist program to make Italy the main power in the Red Sea area and the Middle East. A middle way interpretation was offered by the American historian , who argued that the war was started for both foreign and domestic reasons, being both a part of Mussolini's long-range expansionist plans and intended to give Mussolini a foreign policy triumph that would allow him to push the Fascist system in a more radical direction at home. Italy's forces were far superior to the Abyssinian forces, especially in air power, and they were soon victorious. Emperor was forced to flee the country, with Italy entering the capital city, to proclaim an empire by May 1936, making Ethiopia part of .Mussolini's personal standard
Confident of having been given by French Premier , and certain that the British and French would be forgiving because of his opposition to Hitler's revisionism within the Stresa front, Mussolini received with disdain the League of Nations' economic sanctions imposed on Italy by initiative of London and Paris. In Mussolini's view, the move was a typically hypocritical action carried out by decaying imperial powers that intended to prevent the natural expansion of younger and poorer nations like Italy. In fact, although France and Britain had already colonized parts of Africa, the had finished by the beginning of the twentieth century. The international mood was now against colonialist expansion and Italy's actions were condemned. Furthermore, Italy was criticized for its use of and against its enemies and also for its zero tolerance approach to enemy guerrillas, authorized by Mussolini. Between 1936 and 1941 during operations to "pacify" Ethiopia, the Italians killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian civilians, and are estimated to have killed about 7% of Ethiopia's total population. Mussolini ordered Marshal "to initiate and systematically conduct a policy of terror and extermination against the rebels and the population in complicity with them. Without a policy of ten eyes to one, we cannot heal this wound in good time". Mussolini personally ordered Graziani to execute the entire male population over the age of 18 in one town and in one district ordered that "the prisoners, their accomplices and the uncertain will have to be executed" as part of the "gradual liquidation" of the population. Believing the was inspiring Ethiopians to resist, Mussolini ordered that Orthodox priests and monks were to be targeted in revenge for guerrilla attacks. Mussolini brought in Degree Law 880, which made miscegenation a crime punishable with five years in prison as Mussolini made it absolutely clear that he did not want his soldiers and officials serving in Ethiopia to ever have sex with Ethiopian women under any circumstances as he believed that multiracial relationships made his men less likely to kill Ethiopians. Mussolini favored a policy of brutality partly because he believed the Ethiopians were not a nation because black people were too stupid to have a sense of nationality and therefore the guerrillas were just "bandits". The other reason was because Mussolini was planning on bringing millions of Italian colonists into Ethiopia and he needed to kill off much of the Ethiopian population to make room for the Italian colonists just as he had done in Libya.
The sanctions against Italy were used by Mussolini as a pretext for an alliance with Germany. In January 1936, Mussolini told the German Ambassador that: "If Austria were in practice to become a German satellite, he would have no objection". By recognizing Austria was within the German sphere of influence, Mussolini had removed the principal problem in Italo-German relations. The American historian Barry Sullivan wrote about the Hitler-Mussolini relationship:
A.J.P. Taylor erred in asserting that the British and the French drove Mussolini into an alliance with Hitler. Ironically, Mussolini responded to Germany, Britain and France in inverse proportion to their degree of dishonesty and their threat to Italy: Germany, which consistently treated Italy worse than did the other two countries, was rewarded with Mussolini's friendship; France, which generally offered Italy the highest level of co-operation and true partnership, was rewarded with rebuffs and abuse. British policy and Mussolini's reaction to it, fell between these extremes".On 25 October 1936, an alliance was declared between Italy and Germany, which came to be known as the .
On 11 July 1936, an Austro-German treaty was signed under which Austria declared itself to be a "German state" whose foreign policy would always be aligned with Berlin, and allowed for pro-Nazis to enter the Austrian cabinet. Mussolini had applied strong pressure on the Austrian Chancellor to sign the treaty in order to improve his relations with Hitler. After the sanctions against Italy ended in July 1936, the French tried hard to revive the , displaying what Sullivan called "an almost humiliating determination to retain Italy as an ally". In January 1937, Britain signed a "Gentleman's Agreement" with Mussolini intended to limit Italian intervention in Spain, and was seen by the British Foreign Office as the first step towards creating an Anglo-Italian alliance. In April 1938, Britain and Italy signed the under which Britain promised to recognise Ethiopia as Italian in exchange for Italy pulling out of the . The Foreign Office understood that it was the Spanish Civil War that was pulling Rome and Berlin closer together, and believed if Mussolini could be persuaded to disengage from Spain, then he would return to the Allied camp. To get Mussolini out of Spain, the British were prepared to pay such prices such as recognising King Victor Emmanuel III as Emperor of Ethiopia. The American historian Barry Sullivan wrote that both the British and the French very much wanted a rapprochment with Italy to undo the damage caused by the League of Nations sanctions, and that "Mussolini chose to ally with Hitler, rather than being forced…"
Reflecting the new pro-German foreign policy on 25 October 1936, Mussolini agreed to form a , sanctioned by a cooperation agreement with and signed in . Furthermore, the conquest of Ethiopia cost the lives of 12,000 Italians and another 4,000 to 5,000 Libyans, Eritreans, and Somalis fighting in Italian service. Mussolini believed that conquering Ethiopia would cost 4 to 6 billion lire, but the true costs of the invasion proved to be 33.5 billion lire. The economic costs of the conquest proved to be a staggering blow to the Italian budget, and seriously retarded Italian efforts at military modernization as the money that Mussolini had earmarked for military modernization was instead spent in conquering Ethiopia, something that helped to drive Mussolini towards Germany. To help cover the huge debts run up during the Ethiopian war, Mussolini devalued the lire by 40% in October 1936. Furthermore, the costs of occupying Ethiopia was to cost the Italian treasury another 21.1 billion lire between 1936–1940. Additionally, Italy was to lose 4,000 men killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War (a number adjusted to Italy's population was proportionally twice the American losses in Vietnam) while Italian intervention in Spain cost Italy another 12 to 14 billion lire. In the years 1938 and 1939, the Italian government took in 39.9 billion lire in taxes while the entire Italian gross national product was 153 billion lire, which meant the Ethiopian and Spanish wars imposed economically crippling costs on Italy. Only 28% of the entire military Italian budgets between 1934–39 was spent on military modernization with the rest all being consumed by Mussolini's wars, which led to a rapid decline in Italian military power. By contrast, reflecting the far larger size of the German economy, the total Italian military expenditure in 1936 was equal to only 27% of the total German military expenditure for 1936. The much greater size of the German economy allowed Hitler to both modernize the Wehrmacht and intervene in the Spanish Civil War at the same time, an option that Mussolini did not have. Between 1935–39, Mussolini's wars cost Italy the equivalent of 0 US billion dollars in 1999 values, a sum that was even proportionally a larger burden given that Italy was such a poor country. The 1930s were a time of rapid advances in military technology, and Sullivan wrote that Mussolini picked exactly the wrong time to fight his wars in Ethiopia and Spain. At the same time that the Italian military was falling behind the other great powers, a full scale arms race had broken out, with Germany, Britain and France spending increasingly large sums of money on their militaries as the 1930s advanced, a situation that Mussolini privately admitted seriously limited Italy's ability to fight a major war on its own, and thus required a great power ally to compensate for increasing Italian military backwardness.
From 1936 through 1939, Mussolini provided huge amounts of military support to the in the Spanish Civil War. This active intervention on the side of further distanced Italy from France and Britain. As a result, Mussolini's relationship with Adolf Hitler became closer, and he chose to accept the in 1938, followed by the in 1939. In May 1938, during Hitler's visit to Italy, Mussolini told the Führer that Italy and France were deadly enemies fighting on "opposite sides of the barricade" concerning the Spanish Civil War, and the Stresa Front was "dead and buried". At the in September 1938, Mussolini continued to pose as a moderate working for European peace, while helping annex the . The 1936 Axis agreement with Germany was strengthened by signing the on 22 May 1939, that bound together Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in a full military alliance.
Members of , a Slovene anti-fascist group, plotted to kill Mussolini in in 1938, but their attempt was unsuccessful.
By the late 1930s, Mussolini's obsession with demography led him to conclude that Britain and France were finished as powers, and that it was Germany and Italy who were destined to rule Europe if for no other reason than their demographic strength. Mussolini stated his belief that declining birth rates in France were "absolutely horrifying" and that the British Empire was doomed because one-quarter of the British population was over 50. As such, Mussolini believed that an alliance with Germany was preferable to an alignment with Britain and France as it was better to be allied with the strong instead of the weak. Mussolini saw international relations as a Social Darwinian struggle between "virile" nations with high birth rates that were destined to destroy "effete" nations with low birth rates. Mussolini believed that France was a "weak and old" nation as the French weekly death rate exceeded the birthrate by 2,000, and he had no interest in an alliance with France.
Such was the extent of Mussolini's belief that it was Italy's destino to rule the Mediterranean because of Italy's high birth rate that he neglected much of the serious planning and preparations necessary for a war with the Western powers. The only arguments that held Mussolini back from full alignment with Berlin were his awareness of Italy's economic and military weakness, meaning he required further time to rearm, and his desire to use the of April 1938 as a way of splitting Britain from France. A military alliance with Germany as opposed to the already existing looser political alliance with the Reich under the (which had no military commitments) would end any chance of Britain implementing the Easter Accords. The Easter Accords in turn were intended by Mussolini to allow Italy to take on France alone by sufficiently improving Anglo-Italian relations that London would presumably remain neutral in the event of a Franco-Italian war (Mussolini had imperial designs on Tunisia, and had some ). In turn, the Easter Accords were intended by Britain to win Italy away from Germany.
Count , Mussolini's son-in-law and Foreign Minister, summed up the dictator's foreign policy objectives regarding France in an entry of his diary dated 8 November 1938: would have to be ruled in common with France; "Tunisia, with a more or less similar regime; , Italian and never Frenchified and therefore under our direct control, the border at the river ." As for , which was not "historically or geographically Italian", Mussolini claimed that he was not interested in it. On 30 November 1938, Mussolini invited the French ambassador to attend the opening of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, during which the assembled deputies, at his cue, began to demonstrate loudly against France, shouting that Italy should annex "Tunis, Nice, Corsica, Savoy!", which was followed by the deputies marching into the street carrying signs demanding that France turn over Tunisia, Savoy, and Corsica to Italy. The French Premier Édouard Daladier promptly rejected the Italian demands for territorial concessions, and for much of the winter of 1938–39, France and Italy were on the verge of war.
In January 1939, the British Prime Minister visited Rome, during which visit Mussolini learned that though Britain very much wanted better relations with Italy, and was prepared to make concessions, it would not sever all ties with France for the sake of an improved Anglo-Italian relationship. With that, Mussolini grew more interested in the German offer of a military alliance, which had first been made in May 1938. In February 1939, Mussolini gave a speech before the Fascist Grand Council, during which he proclaimed his belief that a state's power is "proportional to its maritime position" and that Italy was a "prisoner in the Mediterranean and the more populous and powerful Italy becomes, the more it will suffer from its imprisonment. The bars of this prison are Corsica, Tunisia, Malta, Cyprus: the sentinels of this prison are Gibraltar and Suez".
The new course was not without its critics. On 21 March 1939 during a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, accused Mussolini of "licking Hitler's boots", blasted the Duce's pro-German foreign policy as leading Italy to disaster and noted that the "opening to Britain" still existed and it was not inevitable that Italy had to ally with Germany. Though many gerarchi like Balbo were not keen on closer relations with Berlin, Mussolini's control of the foreign-policy machinery meant this dissidence counted for little. Mussolini had a leading position within the Fascist Party, but he did not totally dominate it as Balbo's attack on Mussolini for "licking Hitler's boots" and his demand that the "opening to Britain" be pursued at the meeting of the Fascist Grand Council together with what the Greek historian Aristotle Kallis called Mussolini's "relatively restrained" response show – the Nazi Party had nothing equivalent to the Fascist Grand Council and it was inconceivable that one of Hitler's gauleiters would attack him in the same way that a gerarchi like Balbo criticized Mussolini. In April 1939, Mussolini ordered the . Italy defeated within just five days, forcing king to flee and setting up a period of . Until May 1939, the Axis had not been entirely official, but during that month the treaty was signed outlining the " and alliance" between Germany and Italy, signed by each of its foreign ministers. The Pact of Steel was an offensive and defensive military alliance, though Mussolini had signed the treaty only after receiving a promise from the Germans that there would be no war for the next three years. Italy's was also wary of the pact, favoring the more like France, and fearful of the implications of an offensive military alliance, which in effect meant surrendering control over questions of war and peace to Hitler.
Hitler was intent on invading Poland, though Ciano warned this would likely lead to war with the Allies. Hitler dismissed Ciano's comment, predicting that instead that Britain and the other Western countries would back down, and he suggested that Italy should invade . The offer was tempting to Mussolini, but at that stage a world war would be a disaster for Italy as the situation from building the thus far was lean. Most significantly, Victor Emmanuel had demanded neutrality in the dispute. Thus when World War II in Europe began on 1 September 1939 with the eliciting the response of the United Kingdom and France declaring war on Germany, Italy did not become involved in the conflict. However, when the Germans incarcerated 183 professors from in on 6 November 1939, Mussolini personally intervened to Hitler against this action, leading to the freeing of 101 Poles.
Main article:Cover of magazine, 13 May 1940, headlined: "Il Duce: key man of the Mediterranean"
As World War II began, Ciano and were holding secret phone conversations. The British wanted Italy on their side against Germany as it had been in World War I. French government opinion was more geared towards action against Italy, as they were eager to attack Italy in Libya. In September 1939, France swung to the opposite extreme, offering to discuss issues with Italy, but as the French were unwilling to discuss , Nice and , Mussolini did not answer. Historian Alexander Gibson stated that the Allies were certain that Italy would join the war on the Axis side, and tried to provoke Italy into fighting while she was still unprepared. In late November 1939, Adolf Hitler declared: "So long as the Duce lives, one can rest assured that Italy will seize every opportunity to achieve its imperialistic aims."
Convinced that the war would soon be over, with a German victory looking likely at that point, Mussolini decided to enter the war on the Axis side. Accordingly, Italy declared war on Britain and France on 10 June 1940. Mussolini regarded the war against Britain and France as a life-or-death struggle between opposing ideologies — Fascism and "the , democratic, capitalist world" – describing the war as "the struggle of the fertile and young people against the sterile people moving to the sunset; it is the struggle between two centuries and two ideas", and as a "logical development of our Revolution".
Italy joined the Germans in the , fighting the fortified at the border. Just eleven days later, France and Germany signed an . Included in were most of and other southeastern counties. Meanwhile, in Africa, Mussolini's forces attacked the British in their , and colonies, in what would become known as the . British Somaliland was conquered and became part of Italian East Africa on 3 August 1940, and there were Italian advances in the Sudan and Kenya.
In September 1940, the was commanded by General and crossed from into , where British forces were located; this would become the . Advances were successful, but the Italians stopped at waiting for supplies to catch up. On 24 October 1940, Mussolini sent the to Belgium, where it took part in until January 1941. In October, Mussolini also sent Italian forces into , starting the . After initial success, this backfired as the Greek counterattack proved relentless, resulting in Italy losing one-quarter of Albania.
Events in Africa had changed by early 1941 as had forced the Italians back into , causing high losses in the . Also in the , an attack was mounted against Italian forces. Despite putting up a resistance, they were overwhelmed at the , and the Italian defense started to crumble with a final defeat in the . When addressing the Italian public on the events, Mussolini was completely open about the situation, saying "We call bread bread and wine wine, and when the enemy wins a battle it is useless and ridiculous to seek, as the English do in their incomparable hypocrisy, to deny or diminish it." Part of his comment was in relation to earlier success the Italians had in Africa, before being defeated by an Allied force later. In danger of losing the control of all Italian possessions in North Africa, Germany finally sent the to support Italy. Meanwhile, took place in to end the , resulting in an Axis victory and the .
General , Commander of the Italian 11th division in Slovenia and Croatia, issued an order in line with a directive received from Mussolini in June 1942: "I would not be opposed to all (sic) Slovenes being imprisoned and replaced by Italians. In other words, we should take steps to ensure that political and ethnic frontiers coincide".
Mussolini first learned of after the invasion of had begun on 22 June 1941, and was not asked by Hitler to involve himself. Mussolini took the initiative in ordering an Italian Army Corps to head to the , where he hoped that Italy might score an easy victory to restore the Fascist regime's luster, which had been damaged by defeats in Greece and North Africa. Mussolini told the Council of Ministers of 5 July that his only worry was that Germany might defeat the Soviet Union before the Italians arrived. At a meeting with Hitler in August, Mussolini offered and Hitler accepted the commitment of further Italian troops to fight the Soviet Union. The heavy losses suffered by the Italians on the Eastern Front, where service was extremely unpopular owing to the widespread view that this was not Italy's fight, did much to damage Mussolini's prestige with the Italian people. After the Japanese , he declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941. A piece of evidence regarding Mussolini's response to the attack on Pearl Harbor comes from the diary of his Foreign Minister Ciano:
A night telephone call from Ribbentrop. He is overjoyed about the Japanese attack on America. He is so happy about it that I am happy with him, though I am not too sure about the final advantages of what has happened. One thing is now certain, that America will enter the conflict and that the conflict will be so long that she will be able to realize all her potential forces. This morning I told this to the King who had been pleased about the event. He ended by admitting that, in the long run, I may be right. Mussolini was happy, too. For a long time he has favored a definite clarification of relations between America and the Axis.
Main article:Marshal succeeded Mussolini as Prime Minister.
By early 1942, Italy's military position had become untenable. After the defeat at at the end of 1942, the Axis troops had to retreat to where they were finally defeated in the in early 1943. Italy suffered major setbacks on the as well. The brought the war to the nation's very doorstep. The Italian home front was also in bad shape as the Allied bombings were taking their toll. Factories all over Italy were brought to a virtual standstill because , such as coal and oil, were lacking. Additionally, there was a chronic shortage of food, and what food was available was being sold at nearly confiscatory prices. Mussolini's once-ubiquitous propaganda machine lost its grip on the people; a large number of Italians turned to or for more accurate news coverage. Discontent came to a head in March 1943 with a wave of labor strikes in the industrial north—the first large-scale strikes since 1925. Also in March, some of the major factories in and stopped production to secure evacuation allowances for workers' families. The German presence in Italy had sharply turned public opinion against Mussolini; for example, when the Allies invaded Sicily, the majority of the public there welcomed them as liberators.
Earlier in April 1943, Mussolini had begged Hitler to make a separate peace with Stalin and send German troops to the west to guard against an expected Allied invasion of Italy. Mussolini feared that with the losses in Tunisia and North Africa, the next logical step for 's armies would be to come across the Mediterranean and attack the Italian peninsula. Within a few days of the Allied landings on Sicily in July 1943, it was obvious Mussolini's army was on the brink of collapse. This led Hitler to summon Mussolini to a meeting in on 19 July 1943. By this time, Mussolini was so shaken from stress that he could no longer stand Hitler's boasting. His mood darkened further when that same day, the —the first time that city had ever been the target of enemy bombing.
By this point, some prominent members of Mussolini's government had turned against him. Among them were and Ciano. Several of his colleagues were close to revolt, and Mussolini was forced to summon the Grand Council on 24 July 1943. This was the first time that anybody had met since the start of the war. When he announced that the Germans were thinking of evacuating the south, Grandi launched a blistering attack on him. Grandi moved a resolution asking the king to resume his full constitutional powers–in effect, a in Mussolini. This motion carried by a 19–8 margin. Despite this sharp rebuke, Mussolini showed up for work the next day as usual. He allegedly viewed the Grand Council as merely an advisory body and did not think the vote would have any substantive effect. That afternoon, he was summoned to the royal palace by King , who had been planning to oust Mussolini earlier. When Mussolini tried to tell the king about the meeting, Victor Emmanuel cut him off and told him that he was being replaced by Marshal . After Mussolini left the palace, he was arrested by on the king's orders. By this time, discontent with Mussolini was so intense that when the news of his downfall was announced on the radio, there was no resistance of any sort. People rejoiced because they thought it meant the war was over.Mussolini rescued by German troops from his prison in on 12 September 1943.
In an effort to conceal his location from the Germans, Mussolini was moved around before being imprisoned at , a mountain resort in where he was completely isolated. Badoglio announced that the war would continue in alliance with Germany. Even as Badoglio was keeping up the appearance of loyalty to the Axis, he dissolved the Fascist Party two days after taking over and began negotiating an with the Allies, which was signed on 3 September 1943. Its announcement five days later threw Italy into chaos; German troops rushed in to take over Italy in . As the Germans approached Rome, Badoglio and the king fled Rome, leaving the Italian Army without orders. After a period of anarchy, Italy finally declared war on on 13 October 1943 from ; thousands of troops were supplied to fight against the Germans, while others refused to switch sides and had joined the Germans. The Badoglio government held a political truce with the for the sake of Italy and to rid the land of the Nazis.
Main article:Italian Social Republic (RSI) as of 1943 in yellow and green. The green areas were German military operational zones under direct German administration.
Only two months after Mussolini had been dismissed and arrested, he was rescued from his prison at the Hotel Campo Imperatore in the on 12 September 1943 by a special (paratroopers) unit and led by Major ; was also present. The rescue saved Mussolini from being turned over to the Allies, as per the armistice. Hitler had made plans to arrest the king, , Badoglio, and the rest of the government and restore Mussolini to power in Rome, but the government's escape south likely foiled those plans.
Three days following his rescue in the Gran Sasso raid, Mussolini was taken to Germany for a meeting with Hitler in at . Despite public professions of support, Hitler was clearly shocked by Mussolini's disheveled and haggard appearance as well as his unwillingness to go after the men in Rome who overthrew him. Feeling that he had to do what he could to blunt the edges of Nazi repression, Mussolini agreed to set up a new regime, the (: Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI), informally known as the Salò Republic because of its administration from the town of where he settled 11 days after his rescue by the Germans. Mussolini's new regime faced numerous territorial losses: in addition to losing the Italian lands held by the Allies and Badoglio's government, the provinces of , and were placed under German administration in the , while the provinces of , , , (now Pula), (now Rijeka) and (Lubiana in Italian) were incorporated into the German .Mussolini inspecting fortifications, 1944 A rain-soaked Benito Mussolini reviewing adolescent soldiers in northern Italy, late 1944.
In addition, the German army occupied the of (Spalato) and (Cattaro), which were subsequently annexed by the . Italy's gains in and Albania were also lost to Germany, with the exception of the , which remained nominally under RSI rule. Mussolini opposed any territorial reductions of the Italian state and told his associates:
I am not here to renounce even a square meter of state territory. We will go back to war for this. And we will rebel against anyone for this. Where the Italian flag flew, the Italian flag will return. And where it has not been lowered, now that I am here, no one will have it lowered. I have said these things to the Führer.
For about a year and a half, Mussolini lived in on in Lombardy. Although he insisted in public that he was in full control, he knew that he was little more than a under the protection of his German liberators—for all intents and purposes, the of . After yielding to pressures from Hitler and the remaining loyal fascists who formed the government of the Republic of Salò, Mussolini helped orchestrate a series of executions of some of the fascist leaders who had betrayed him at the last meeting of the Fascist Grand Council. One of those executed was his son-in-law, . As Head of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Italian Social Republic, Mussolini used much of his time to write his memoirs. Along with his autobiographical writings of 1928, these writings would be combined and published by as My Rise and Fall. In an interview in January 1945 by Madeleine Mollier, a few months before he was captured and executed by Italian anti-fascist partisans, he stated flatly: "Seven years ago, I was an interesting person. Now, I am little more than a corpse." He continued:
Yes, madam, I am finished. My star has fallen. I have no fight left in me. I work and I try, yet know that all is but a farce... I await the end of the tragedy and – strangely detached from everything – I do not feel any more an actor. I feel I am the last of spectators.
Main article:Cross marking the place in where Mussolini was shot American newsreel coverage of the death of Mussolini in 1945
On 25 April 1945, allied troops were advancing into northern Italy, and the collapse of the Salò Republic was imminent. Mussolini and his set out for Switzerland, intending to board a plane and escape to Spain. Two days later on 27 April, they were stopped near the village of () by communist partisans Valerio and Bellini and identified by the of the partisans' 52nd Garibaldi Brigade, . During this time, Clara's brother posed as a Spanish consul. After several unsuccessful attempts to take them to they were brought to . They spent their last night in the house of the De Maria family.
The next day, Mussolini and Petacci were both summarily shot, along with most of the members of their 15-man train, primarily ministers and officials of the . The shootings took place in the small village of and were conducted by a partisan leader who used the of Colonnello Valerio. His real identity is unknown, but conventionally he is thought to have been , who always claimed to have carried out the execution, though another partisan controversially alleged that Colonnello Valerio was , subsequently a leading communist politician in post-war Italy. Mussolini was killed two days before Hitler and his wife committed suicide.
On 29 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and the other executed Fascists were loaded into a van and moved south to . At 3:00 am, the corpses were dumped on the ground in the old . The piazza had been renamed "Piazza Quindici Martiri" in honor of fifteen anti-Fascists recently executed there.The corpse of Mussolini (second from left) next to Petacci (middle) and other executed fascists in , Milan, 1945
After being kicked and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down from the roof of an gas station. The bodies were then stoned from below by civilians. This was done both to discourage any Fascists from continuing the fight, and as an act of revenge for the hanging of many partisans in the same place by Axis authorities. The corpse of the deposed leader was subject to ridicule and abuse. Fascist loyalist was captured and sentenced to death and then taken to the Piazzale Loreto and shown the body of Mussolini. Starace, who once said of Mussolini "He is a god," saluted what was left of his leader just before he was shot. The body of Starace was subsequently hung up next to that of Mussolini.
After his death and the display of his corpse in Milan, Mussolini was buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery, to the north of the city. On 1946, his body was located and dug up by and two other .
On the loose for months—and a cause of great anxiety to the new Italian democracy—Mussolini's body was finally "recaptured" in August, hidden in a small trunk at the , just outside Milan. Two brothers were subsequently charged with concealing the corpse, though it was discovered on further investigation that it had been constantly on the move. Unsure what to do, the authorities held the remains in a kind of political limbo for ten years, before agreeing to allow them to be re-interred at in , his birthplace. , the then-current prime minister, contacted , the dictator's widow, to tell her he was returning the remains, as he needed the support of the far-right in parliament, including Leccisi himself. In Predappio the dictator was buried in a crypt (the only posthumous honor granted to Mussolini). His tomb is flanked by , and a large idealized marble of him is above the tomb.
Mussolini's first wife was , whom he married in in 1914. The couple had a son the following year and named him Benito Albino Mussolini. In December 1915, Mussolini married , who had been his mistress since 1910. Due to his upcoming political ascendency, the information about his first marriage was suppressed, and both his first wife and son were later persecuted. With Rachele, Mussolini had two daughters, (1910–1995) and Anna Maria (1929–1968), the latter of whom married in on 11 June 1960 to Nando Pucci Negri; and three sons: (1916–1997), (1918–1941) and (1927–2006). Mussolini had several mistresses, among them and his final companion, . Mussolini had many brief sexual encounters with female supporters, as reported by his biographer Nicholas Farrell.
Imprisonment likely caused Mussolini's . He refused to enter the , and preferred large rooms like his 60 by 40 by 40 feet (18 by 12 by 12 m) office at the .
Mussolini was raised by a devoutly mother and an father. His mother Rosa had him into the Roman Catholic Church, and took her children to services every Sunday. His father never attended. Mussolini regarded his time at a religious boarding school as punishment, compared the experience to hell, and "once refused to go to and had to be dragged there by force."
Mussolini became anti-clerical like his father. As a young man, he "proclaimed himself to be an and several times tried to shock an audience by calling on God to strike him dead." He believed that science had proven there was no god, and that the historical Jesus was ignorant and mad. He considered religion a disease of the psyche, and accused Christianity of promoting resignation and cowardice. Mussolini was superstitious; after hearing of the , he ordered the immediate removal from the of an Egyptian mummy he had accepted as a gift.
Mussolini was an admirer of . According to , "In Nietzsche he found justification for his crusade against the Christian virtues of humility, resignation, charity, and goodness." He valued Nietzsche's concept of the , "The supreme egoist who defied both God and the masses, who despised egalitarianism and democracy, who believed in the weakest going to the wall and pushing them if they did not go fast enough." On his 60th birthday, Mussolini received a gift from Hitler of a complete twenty-four volume set of the works of Nietzsche.
Mussolini made vitriolic attacks against Christianity and the Catholic Church, which he accompanied with provocative remarks about the consecrated host, and about a love affair between Christ and . He denounced socialists who were tolerant of religion, or who had their children baptized, and called for socialists who accepted religious marriage to be expelled from the party. He denounced the Catholic Church for "its and refusal to allow ..." Mussolini's newspaper, La Lotta di Classe, reportedly had an anti-Christian editorial stance.
Despite making such attacks, Mussolini tried to win popular support by appeasing the Catholic majority in Italy. In 1924, Mussolini saw that three of his children were given . In 1925, he had a priest perform a for himself and his wife Rachele, whom he had married in a 10 years earlier. On 11 February 1929, he signed a concordat and treaty with the Roman Catholic Church. Under the , Vatican City was granted independent statehood and placed under Church law—rather than Italian law—and the Catholic religion was recognized as Italy's . The Church also regained authority over marriage, Catholicism could be taught in all secondary schools, birth control and freemasonry were banned, and the clergy received subsidies from the state and was exempted from taxation. praised Mussolini, and the official Catholic newspaper pronounced "Italy has been given back to God and God to Italy."
After this conciliation, he claimed the Church was subordinate to the State, and "referred to Catholicism as, in origin, a minor sect that had spread beyond Palestine only because grafted onto the organization of the Roman empire." After the concordat, "he confiscated more issues of Catholic newspapers in the next three months than in the previous seven years." Mussolini reportedly came close to being from the Catholic Church around this time.
Mussolini publicly reconciled with the Pope Pius XI in 1932, but "took care to exclude from the newspapers any photography of himself kneeling or showing deference to the Pope." He wanted to persuade Catholics that "[f]ascism was Catholic and he himself a believer who spent some of each day in prayer ..." The Pope began referring to Mussolini as "a man sent by Providence." Despite Mussolini's efforts to appear pious, by order of his party, pronouns referring to him "had to be capitalized like those referring to God ..."
In 1938 Mussolini began reasserting his anti-clericalism. He would sometimes refer to himself as an "outright disbeliever," and once told his cabinet that "Islam was perhaps a more effective religion than Christianity" and that the "papacy was a malignant tumor in the body of Italy and must 'be rooted out once and for all', because there was no room in Rome for both the Pope and himself." He publicly backed down from these anti-clerical statements, but continued making similar statements in private.
After his fall from power in 1943, Mussolini began speaking "more about God and the obligations of conscience", although "he still had little use for the priests and sacraments of the Church". He also began drawing parallels between himself and Jesus Christ. Mussolini's widow, Rachele, stated that her husband had remained "basically until the later years of his life". Mussolini was given a in 1957.
Main articles: and
Although Mussolini had initially disregarded biological racism, he was a firm believer in national traits and made several generalizations about the Jews. Nevertheless, Mussolini considered Italian Jews to be Italians. Mussolini's antisemitic remarks in the late 1910s and early 1920s were more suited to the moment rather than a sincere belief in them. Mussolini blamed the of 1917 on "Jewish vengeance" against Christianity with the remark "Race does not betray race . . . Bolshevism is being defended by the international plutocracy. That is the real truth." Yet within a few weeks he did a u-turn with the remark "Bolshevism is not, as people believe, a Jewish phenomenon. The truth is that Bolshevism is leading to the utter ruin of the Jews of Eastern Europe."
In the early 1920s, Mussolini stated that Fascism would never raise a "" and in an article he wrote he stated "Italy knows no antisemitism and we believe that it will never know it." and then elaborated "let us hope that Italian Jews will continue to be sensible enough so as not to give rise to antisemitism in the only country where it has never existed." In 1932, Mussolini during a conversation with described antisemitism as a "German vice" and stated that "There was 'no Jewish Question' in Italy and could not be one in a country with a healthy system of government." On several occasions, Mussolini spoke positively about Jews and the , although Fascism remained suspicious of Zionism after the Fascist Party gained power. Until 1938 Mussolini had denied any antisemitism within the Fascist Party.
The relationship between Mussolini and Adolf Hitler was a contentious one early on. While Hitler cited Mussolini as an influence and privately expressed great admiration for him, Mussolini had little regard for Hitler, especially after the Nazis had assassinated his friend and ally, , the dictator of Austria in 1934.
With the assassination of Dollfuss, Mussolini attempted to distance himself from Hitler by rejecting much of the racialism (particularly and Germanicism) and antisemitism espoused by the German radical. Mussolini during this period rejected biological racism, at least in the Nazi sense, and instead emphasized "" the parts of the he had desired to build. He declared that the ideas of and the racially charged concept of an nation were not possible. Mussolini dismissed the idea of a as "arrant nonsense, stupid and idiotic."
When discussing the Nazi decree that the German people must carry a passport with either Aryan or Jewish racial affiliation marked on it, in 1934, Mussolini wondered how they would designate membership in the "Germanic race":
But which race? Does there exist a German race? Has it ever existed? Will it ever exist? Reality, myth, or hoax of the theorists?
Ah well, we respond, a Germanic race does not exist. Various movements. Curiosity. Stupor. We repeat. Does not exist. We don't say so. Scientists say so. Hitler says so.
When German-Jewish journalist Emil Ludwig asked about his views on race in 1933, Mussolini exclaimed:
Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today. Amusingly enough, not one of those who have proclaimed the "nobility" of the Teutonic race was himself a Teuton. was a Frenchman, (Houston Stewart) , an Englishman; , a Jew; , another Frenchman.
In a speech given in in 1934, he reiterated his attitude towards the German ideology of :
Thirty centuries of history allow us to look with supreme pity on certain doctrines which are preached beyond the by the descendants of those who were illiterate when Rome had , and .
Though Italian Fascism varied its official positions on race from the 1920s to 1934, ideologically Italian fascism did not originally discriminate against the Italian-Jewish community: Mussolini recognised that a small contingent had lived there "since the days of the " and should "remain undisturbed". There were even some Jews in the , such as , who in 1935 founded the Jewish Fascist paper La Nostra Bandiera ("Our Flag").Front page of the Italian newspaper on 11 November 1938: the fascist regime has approved the racial laws.
By mid-1938, the enormous influence Hitler now had over Mussolini became clear with the introduction of the . The Manifesto, which was closely modeled on the Nazi , stripped Jews of their and with it any position in the government or professions. The racial laws declared Italians to be part of the and forbid sexual relations and marriages between Italians and those considered to be of an "inferior race", chiefly Jews and Africans. Jews were not permitted to own or manage companies involved in military production, or factories that employed over one hundred people or exceeded a certain value. They could not own land over a certain value, serve in the armed forces, employ non-Jewish domestics, or belong to the Fascist party. Their employment in banks, insurance companies, and public schools was forbidden.
Even after the introduction of the , Mussolini continued to make contradictory statements about race. Many high government officials told Jewish representatives that the antisemitism in Fascist Italy would soon be over. Antisemitism was unpopular within the Fascist party; once when a Fascist scholar protested to Mussolini about the treatment of his Jewish friends, Mussolini is reported to have said "I agree with you entirely. I don't believe a bit in the stupid anti-Semitic theory. I am carrying out my policy entirely for political reasons." Hitler felt disappointed with Mussolini's lack of antisemitism.
Mussolini and the Italian Army in occupied regions openly opposed German efforts to deport Italian Jews to Nazi concentration camps. Italy's refusal to comply with German demands of Jewish persecution influenced other countries.
In September 1943 semi-autonomous militarized squads of Fascist fanatics sprouted up throughout the Republic of Salò. These squads spread terror among Jews and anti-Fascists for a year and a half. In the power vacuum that existed during the first three or four months of the occupation, the semi-autonomous bands were virtually uncontrollable. Many were linked to individual high-ranking Fascist politicians. Italian Fascists, sometimes government employees but more often fanatic civilians or paramilitary volunteers, hastened to curry favor with the Nazis. Informers betrayed their neighbors, seized Jews and delivered them to the German SS, and Italian journalists seemed to compete in the virulence of their anti-Semitic diatribes.
It has been widely speculated that Mussolini adopted the Manifesto of Race in 1938 for merely tactical reasons, to strengthen Italy's relations with Germany. Mussolini and the Italian military did not consistently apply the laws adopted in the Manifesto of Race. In December 1943, Mussolini made a confession to journalist/politician Bruno Spampanato that seems to indicate that he regretted the Manifesto of Race:
The Racial Manifesto could have been avoided. It dealt with the scientific abstruseness of a few teachers and journalists, a conscientious German essay translated into bad Italian. It is far from what I have said, written and signed on the subject. I suggest that you consult the old issues of . For this reason I am far from accepting (Alfred) 's .
Mussolini also reached out to the Muslims in his empire and in the predominantly Arab countries of the Middle East. In 1937, the Muslims of presented Mussolini with the "Sword of Islam" while Fascist propaganda pronounced him as the "Protector of Islam."
Mussolini was survived by his wife, , two sons, Vittorio and , and his daughters (the widow of Count Ciano) and Anna Maria. A third son, Bruno, was killed in an air accident while flying a on a test mission, on 7 August 1941. His oldest son, , from his marriage with Ida Dalser, was ordered to stop declaring that Mussolini was his father and in 1935 forcibly committed to an asylum in Milan, where he was murdered on 26 August 1942 after repeated coma-inducing injections., daughter of , Benito Mussolini's fourth son, and of Anna Maria Scicolone, 's sister, has been a member of the for the far-right movement, a deputy in the Italian lower chamber and served in the as a member of 's party.
Although the was outlawed by the postwar , a number of successor neo-fascist parties emerged to carry on its legacy. Historically, the largest neo-fascist party was the (Movimento Sociale Italiano), which disbanded in 1995 and was replaced by , a conservative party that distanced itself from Fascism (its founder, former foreign minister , declared during an official visit to that Fascism was "an absolute evil"). National Alliance and a number of neo-fascist parties were merged in 2009 to create the short-lived party led by then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which eventually disbanded after the defeat in the .
in his SF novel has a future historian give Mussolini's story, though without naming him. Written in 1930, it has Mussolini starting and losing a war with France and then being killed by an angry Italian mob. The book does not predict Hitler.
In his 1938 novel , predicted Mussolini's execution:
Benito Mussolini, with a surfeit of bad history decaying in his imagination, could not see the plain realities before him. Like most of his generation he dramatised human affairs in incurably geographical patches, and like most of the masterful men of his time his belief in his power to mould the life about him carried him beyond sanity. From the beginning his was an ill-balanced temperament; he would be blatant at one moment, and weeping at another. He beat at the knees of Mother Reality like an unteachable child. He wanted war and conquest, triumph over definable enemies, fierce alliances, and unforgettable antagonisms. He wanted glory. He died, as his last words testify, completely unaware of the fact that the rational treatment of human affairs does not admit of that bilaterality which the traditions of warfare require. "Do we win?" he said. He persuaded himself and he persuaded great multitudes of people that two great systems of ideas faced each other in the world, "Leftism" and "Rightism", and that he and his associated Dictators embodied the latter. He did contrive finally to impose the illusion of a definitive World War upon great masses of people.
's 1940 film satirizes Mussolini as "Benzino Napaloni", portrayed by . In the ' , plays "Chizzolini", from the then topical insult of "chisler".
wrote a short story about Mussolini in his 1971 book, or Don't Go But If You Must Say Hello To Everybody.
More serious biographical depictions include in 's 1974 movie , and 's portrayal in the 1985 television mini-series Mussolini: The Untold Story.
Another 1985 movie was , in which plays the dictator (with as his daughter Edda and as Count Ciano). Actor also played the title role in in 1993, which covered his life from his school teacher days to the beginning of World War I, before his rise as dictator. Mussolini is also depicted in the films , (also with Steiger) and the award-winning Italian film .
A comic strip ran in the entitled "Musso the ". This strip, which ran from 1940 to 1943, featured Mussolini as an arrogant buffoon.
"Der Mussolini" is a hit single by the German / band (DAF), from their -winning 1981 album . It was covered by German-American band on their 2006 remix album , as well as German / band on their 2007 EP Bodypop 1½.
Mussolini is the protagonist of the 2009 film , directed by . Mussolini is a major character in Niven and Pournelle's , a retelling of 's . He is referenced in the season 1 episode 3 of the Dictators Rulebook, by .