Key Personality: Benito Mussolini

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Benito Mussolini
Mussolini is a Key Personality for:
Italy in the Inter-War Years.

  • Benito Mussolini was born in Italy in 1883. He originally joined the Socialist Party but was expelled when he campaigned for Italy to join the First World War. He turned to nationalism and founded the fascio di combattimento (combat groups) after the war. They opposed the growth of socialism in Italy and violently attacked socialists.
  • He transformed the combat groups into a political party - the Fascist Party. He led the March on Rome to demand a role in the government for the fascists. King Victor Emmanuel did not support the existing government so he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister.
  • Mussolini then set about creating a totalitarian dictatorship: he passed the Acerbo Law which stated that the political party with the most votes in the next election would automatically get two-thirds of the Parliament seats, ensuring he would be in power. He also used propaganda through radio and cinema. The murder of Socialist leader Giacomo Matteoti by Fascists led to the Socialist Party leaving Parliament in protest. Mussolini took full control and gained the ability to rule by decree. He created a cult of personality around himself and became il Duce (the leader).
  • He wanted more Fascist control of the economy so he established the Corporate State to achieve this. He followed a policy of self-sufficiency and organised a series of "Battles" e.g. the Battle for Grai to increase grain production. He drained the Pontine Marshes near Rome in order to reclaim the land, and he built new autostrada (motorways). These actions reduced unemployment.
  • He signed the Lateran Treaty with the Pope, granting the Pope the Vatican state in return for his acknowledgement of the Italian state. Italy paid compensation for taking Rome from the Pope in 1870 and Catholicism was recognised as the sole religion of the state.
  • Mussolini's foreign policy was based on expansion. He regained Fiume from Yugoslavia and held on to Corfu until Greece agreed to pay 50 million lira compensation for the deaths of Italian soldiers. Mussolini later signed the Locarno Pact and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war. Despite this he continued his policy of expansion and in the 1930s he invaded Abyssinia and aided Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
  • Initially, he was opposed to granting Austria to Hitler, but when Hitler supported his invasion of Abyssinia and also helped Franco, Mussolini became allies with him, signing the Rome-Berlin Axis and later the Pact of Steel, which committed Italy to joining the war with Germany.
  • When World War II began, Mussolini kept Italy out at first due to the weakness of the army. He joined after Hitler had conquered France. The Italian Army performed very badly. It was defeated in North Africa, and Allied forces pushed up from there through southern Italy. King Victor Emmanuel deposed Mussolini. Hitler rescued him from capture and hid him in northern Italy, where he was captured again and shot dead by Italian partisans (guerilla fighters).

In short...

  • Background:
    • originally joined the Socialists, expelled and turned to nationalism.
    • founded fascio di combattimento.
  • Rise to power:
    • Created the Fascist Party, March on Rome, made Prime Minister.
  • Totalitarian Dictatorship:
    • Acerbo Law
    • Propaganda and cult of personality (il Duce)
    • Matteoti crisis
    • Rule by decree
  • The Economy:
    • Corporate State (Battles)
    • Reclaimed the Pontine marshes.
    • Autostrada
  • Church-State relations:
    • Lateran Treaty
  • Foreign Policy and World War II
    • Initial successes: Fiume, Corfu
    • Locarno Pact, Kellogg-Briand Pact
    • Invasion of Abyssinia, Spanish Civil War
    • Relationship with Hitler (Rome-Berlin Axis, Pact of Steel)
    • Italy in WWII (poor army, Mussolini deposed, captured and killed).


Allied propaganda poster featuring Mussolini.
"Dunce says, the Allies make me so mad that I am going right out in the back yard and eat worms."
What is the message of this poster?