Born as Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini on 29 July 1883, in Predappio, in the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Benito Mussolini was the first child of the local blacksmith and a sincere socialist Alessandro Mussolini and a devout Catholic, schoolteacher mother, Rosa Maltoni. Since Mussolini’s father spent much of his time discussing politics in taverns and most of his money on his mistress, the meals that his three children ate were often meager. The circumstances made Benito a restless child. He was disobedient, unruly and aggressive. As the teachers of the village school could not control him, he was sent to a strict boarding school run by Salesian monks, from where he was expelled for stabbing a fellow student with a penknife. He was also expelled from the Giosuè Carducci School at Forlimpopoli, after he assaulted another boy with his penknife. However, he was intelligent enough and after joining a new school, he achieved good grades, passed the final examinations without any difficulty and after obtaining a teaching diploma in 1901, started his life as a schoolmaster. However, soon he realized that he was totally unsuited for such work and at the age of 19, he emigrated to Switzerland, where he initially worked as a stonemason in Geneva, Fribourg and Bern.
While in Switzerland, Mussolini was attracted by the idea of socialism and gradually became actively involved in the Italian socialist movement in Switzerland. Soon he started working for the paper L’Avvenire del Lavoratore, giving speeches to workers and serving as secretary of the Italian workers' union in Lausanne. He was arrested by the police in 1903 for advocating a violent general strike in Berne, spent two weeks in jail, and then deported to Italy. After serving his term in jail, Mussolini returned to Switzerland and having been arrested again in Geneva in 1904 and expelled for falsifying his papers, he returned to Lausanne and attended the University of Lausanne’s Department of Social Science. In 1909, he moved to the Austria-Hungarian city of Trento to take the job of the secretary of the local labour party. At the same time, he also did the office work for the local Socialist Party and edited its newspaper.
During the same year, he fell in love with 16-year-old Rachele Guidi, the younger of the two daughters of his father’s widowed mistress and in 1910, the girl left her family to live with him in a damp, cramped apartment in Forlì. They were married on a later date in December 1915. However, Rachele Guidi was not the only woman in his life. His sexual appetite was vast and since his teens, he was a regular at the town brothel. The only lovemaking he understood was tantamount to rape. Four years after Rachele Guidi gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock, he abandoned her to wed beautician Ida Dalser, who was three years older than him.
However, when Ida threatened to wreck his political ambition by exposing his shady financial dealings, Mussolini reacted by having Ida declared insane and held in an asylum until her death more than 20 years later. As the marriage was declared invalid on the ground of insanity of Ida, Mussolini returned to Rachele and married her in December 1915. After he came to power in 1922, he used to screen through the letters received from his mostly married female admirers and select the likeliest candidates for sex. He needed more than a couple of women a day and at times had more than a dozen casual mistresses on call. However, he had no interest in his partner’s pleasure. Claretta Petacci, one of his numerous sex partners from a well-connected Roman family, was with him, until her death.
In Forlì Mussolini devoted himself to edit the weekly Lotta di classe and wrote several essays about German literature, some stories, and a novel, which was bitterly anticlerical, and years later was withdrawn from circulation after Mussolini made temporary peace with the Vatican.
At the outbreak of the World War I, Mussolini started 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 claimed that the war could offer vast social changes and it should be supported as a revolutionary war. He came into conflict with socialists who opposed the war and consequently, was expelled from the party for his support of intervention.
After being ousted by the Italian Socialist Party, Mussolini made a radical transformation, ending his support for class conflict and joining in support of the revolutionary nationalism transcending class lines. He joined the army and was active for nine months in front-line trench warfare. However, in 1917 he was seriously wounded by the explosion of a mortar bomb in his trench and was left with at least 40 shards of metal in his body. After being discharged from the hospital in August 1917, he returned home a convinced antisocialist and resumed his editor-in-chief position at his new paper, Il Popolo d’ltalia. As early as February 1918, he openly advocated the emergence of a dictator to seize control of Italy. Completely dissatisfied with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Mussolini arranged to gather various fascist groups in Milan and established a new force in Italian politics, Fasci di combattimento, meaning ‘the Fighting Bands’.
Gradually, Mussolini was gaining popularity. Surrounded by his supporters wearing black shirts, his impressive physique, theatrical style of oratory and dramatic attitudes, caught the imagination of the crowds. In late 1920, the Blackshirt squads, often with the direct help of landowners, began to attack local government institutions and by late 1921, the Fascists were actually controlling the large parts of Italy. The government, dominated by middle-class Liberals, did little to combat this lawlessness. Under the above circumstances, Mussolini was patiently waiting for the right moment to seize power at the national level.
The much awaited opportunity came in the summer of 1922, when the remnants of the trade-union movement called a general strike. Mussolini immediately took it as an opportunity and declared that unless the government prevented the strike, the Fascists would. The government was slow to act, eventually dispatching troops, though by that time, the strike was defeated with the help of the Fascist volunteers and they had already seized control of some local governments.
On 24 October 1922, at a gathering of 40,000 Fascists in Naples, Mussolini threatened to march on Rome to take control of the government through violent force, if the power is not transferred to the Fascist peacefully. Refusing to pass martial law and prepared to accept a new Fascist government, King Victor Emmanuel III dispatched a telegram to Mussolini, for which he had been waiting. Consequently, on 31 October 1922, Mussolini became the youngest prime minister in Italian history. He made it clear, that he intended to govern authoritatively and presented a list of ministers to the king, a majority of whom were not members of his party. He obtained full dictatorial powers for a year and within that period he pushed through a law that enabled the Fascists to cement a majority in the parliament. The elections in 1924, though undoubtedly fraudulent, secured his personal power.
Many Italians, especially the middle class, welcomed Mussolini and were ready to submit to dictatorship, as they were tired of strikes and riots and thought that the new rule would stabilize the national economy and the dignity of the country would be restored. However, soon they found, the democratic system of the country was completely abolished in favour of a one-party state and opposition parties, trade unions and the free press were outlawed. Even free speech was crushed and a network of spies and secret police were engaged to keep watch over the population.
In 1926, all Communist members of Parliament were arrested, and all Socialist members expelled. A number of questionable persons, who could not be prosecuted for a crime, were detained for up to five years and placed in island internment camps. Cinemas were required to screen government propaganda in the form of newsreels. Fascists owned 66 percent of the newspapers and controlled reporting, issuing daily editorial guidelines and threatening editors with arrest. Newspapers were allowed to criticize the government as long as they generally expressed support.
In October 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia and dropped tons of gas bombs upon the Ethiopian people. Europe expressed its horror at the incident and the League of Nations imposed sanctions on Italy. However, Mussolini did not care. Germany under Adolf Hitler was the second country to support Italy’s action in Ethiopia and both Hitler and Mussolini sided with Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War in 1935. In solidarity with Nazi Germany, Italy finally left the League of Nations in 1937 and in March 1938, when Hitler invaded Austria, Mussolini supported Hitler. During March, in the same year, the two countries officially joined as the Rome-Berlin Axis and following the example of the Germans, Mussolini passed anti-Semitic laws in Italy in 1938 and thus, prepared the way for the deportation of around 20 percent of Italy’s Jews to German death camps during the war. Immediately after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in1939, Britain and France declared war against Germany, yet Italy did not take any side and remained neutral. However, as Germany advanced westward and France seemed on the verge of collapse, Mussolini joined hands with Hitler and announced Italy’s entrance into the war on 10 June 1940.
However, from the beginning of its participation, the war went badly for Italy and Mussolini had to face the unpleasant fact that he was the junior partner in the Axis alliance. As the Germans kept the details of most of their military plans concealed, Mussolini decided to attack Greece through Albania in 1940 without informing the Germans. The result was a humiliating defeat and the Germans had to unwillingly save him from its disastrous consequences. Mussolini’s campaign to support the German invasion of the Soviet Union also failed miserably in 1941, as the ill-equipped Italian troops had to face a nightmarish winter retreat. After that, as the Italians surrendered in North Africa in 1943, the Germans began to take precautions against a likely Italian collapse and as the Western Allies successfully invaded Sicily in July 1943, it became evident that collapse was very much on the cards.
During that time, both Fascists and non-Fascists were eager to oust Mussolini from power. On July 24, at a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, a resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority to dismiss Mussolini from office. Next morning Mussolini appeared at his office, as if nothing has happened. However, he was arrested in the same afternoon by royal command on the steps of the Villa Savoia, after a meeting with the king. Initially, he was imprisoned on the island of Ponza, then shifted to a more remote island off the coast of Sardinia, and was interned in a hotel, high on the Gran Sasso d’Italia, the highest mountain in the Apennines and outside the Alps. Nevertheless, the German commandos rescued him on 12 September 1943, by crash-landing gliders on the slopes behind the hotel.
As suggested by Hitler, Mussolini established the Republica Sociale Italiana, a new Fascist government in the north of Italy, which was no more than a puppet government at the mercy of the German command, leading to the extermination of thousands of Italian Jews. Under the circumstances, the Italian Communists of the partisan leadership decided to execute Mussolini.
In the mean time, as the Allied forces barreled through Italy in June 1945, Mussolini decided to leave the country. He was advised by many, including the elder of his two surviving sons, to fly out of the country. Instead, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci, he tried to cross the frontier in a convoy of trucks retreating toward Innsbruck, in Austria. However, they were spotted by the partisans searching troop transport trucks and were shot dead on 28 April 1945. Their bodies were hung upside down and displayed at the Piazza Loreto in Milan, for the public to kick and spit on. That was the outburst of the accumulated hate and anger, which were kept hidden deep inside the heart of the commoners, who suffered unnecessarily for satisfying the whims and the ego of an ambitious tyrant. Mussolini was hated by his countrymen, as he dragged the nation to an unwanted and disastrous war. He was hated, as he chose to ally with Hitler, rather than being forced. After his death, democracy was restored in the country after 20 years of dictatorship.
Mussolini’s body was initially buried in an unmarked grave, which was unearthed in 1946 by Fascist supporters, who took away the body. Later, the government recovered it and interred at Predappio in Romagna, his birthplace, with his marble bust above his tomb.