Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883. An Italian politician, he founded the National Fascist Party. Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy from the March on Rome in 1922 until his deposition in 1943. He was executed in 1945 by Italian partisans.
Mussolini, born in a small town in Emilia-Romagna known then as Dovia di Predappio, to a blacksmith father and devout Catholic schoolteacher mother. Benito was the eldest of his parents’ three children, with a brother, Arnaldo, and a sister, Edvige.
Benito’s father was an admirer of the protagonists of the Italian unification movement, such as the nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, and the military leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. He named his son after the Mexican reformist President, Benito Juárez. Meanwhile his middle names – Andrea and Amilcare – were those of the Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani.
Socialism to Fascism
Mussolini was originally a socialist politician and a journalist at the Avanti! newspaper. In 1912, he became a member of the National Directorate of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). However, he was later expelled from the PSI for advocating military intervention in World War I, in opposition to the party’s stance on neutrality.
In 1914, Mussolini founded a new journal, Il Popolo d’Italia, and served in the Royal Italian Army during the war. He was wounded and discharged in 1917. Mussolini denounced the PSI, his views now centering on Italian nationalism instead of socialism. This led him to found the fascist movement which came to oppose egalitarianism and class conflict, instead advocating “revolutionary nationalism” transcending class lines.
On 31 October 1922, following the March on Rome (28–30 October), Mussolini was appointed prime minister by King Victor Emmanuel III. He was the youngest individual to hold the office up to that time.
He removed all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labour strikes. Within five years, Mussolini had established dictatorial authority by both legal and illegal means. He aspired to create a totalitarian state. In 1929, Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See to establish Vatican City.
Expanding colonial possessions
Mussolini’s foreign policy aimed to restore the ancient grandeur of the Roman Empire by expanding Italian colonial possessions and the fascist sphere of influence. In the 1920s, he ordered the Pacification of Libya, instructed the bombing of Corfu, established a protectorate over Albania, and incorporated the city of Fiume into the Italian state via agreements with Yugoslavia.
Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1936 following the Second Italo–Ethiopian War and merged into Italian East Africa (AOI) with Eritrea and Somalia. In 1939, Italian forces annexed Albania.
Between 1936 and 1939, Mussolini intervened in the Spanish Civil War in favour of Franco.
World War II and death
Mussolini’s Italy initially tried to avoid the outbreak of a second global war. He sent troops at the Brenner Pass to delay Anschluss and took part in the Stresa front. Italy was also involved in the Lytton Report, the Treaty of Lausanne, the Four-Power Pact and the Munich Agreement. However, Italy then aligned with Germany and Japan.
On 10 June 1940, Mussolini decided to enter the war on the Axis side. Despite initial success, the subsequent Axis collapse on multiple fronts and eventual Allied invasion of Sicily made Mussolini lose the support of the population and members of the Fascist Party.
Due to this, early on 25 July 1943, the Grand Council of Fascism passed a motion of no confidence in Mussolini. King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed him as head of government and had him placed in custody later that day.
After the king agreed to an armistice with the Allies, on 12 September 1943, Mussolini was rescued from captivity in the Gran Sasso raid by German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos.
Adolf Hitler met Mussolini and put him in charge of a puppet regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic. This led to a civil war. In late April 1945, as defeat loomed, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci attempted to flee to Switzerland. However, they were captured by Italian communist partisans.
They were executed by firing squad on 28 April 1945 near Lake Como. Their bodies were taken to Milan, where they were hung upside down to publicly confirm their deaths.