Bonito Mussolini

In post World War I Italy, socialism rapidly grew in popularity. Many were disappointed with the state of post war Italy; territories such as Trentino and Dalmatia which were promised to be rewarded to Italy after victory were denied and remained independent or were put under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations. Italy’s banks were drained of gold and the nation was deeply in debt. (“Bonito Mussolini”)

Bonito Mussolini was born in 1883 to a middle class anarchist family. His father, a blacksmith, encouraged him to disobey authority, and he quickly gained a reputation for insubordinance and bullying at his church and school, which he was soon expelled from.

In his 20’s, Mussolini became an editor and writer for a socialist newspaper. He had adopted a liking for socialism, but the views he expressed in his articles had a tendency to shift to suit the atmosphere of his audience. This strategy of “shifting sand” doctrine would later allow Mussolini to preserve his popularity though changing political climates. In his editorials, Mussolini called for an Italian leader who was “ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep”, and hinted that he may in fact be that leader. (Modern History “Bonito Mussolini”)

Despite being a popular writer for his local socialist newspaper, he was ridiculed by the Italian Socialist Party for supporting Italy’s involvement in World War I on the side of the allies. Mussolini left his newspaper, was called into the Italian Army, and participated in World War I for three years. Mussolini saw little combat action, but kept a war journal in which he imagined himself as a war hero. After an injury caused his early return home, he met up with other former socialist party members.

The Socialist Party split over the issue of Italy’s involvement of World War I, the pro-war partisans formed a new group called the Milan Fascio, the forerunner of the Fascist Party. The idea of Fascio comes from the Roman Fasces, a symbol of an ax bound in sticks which alone are weak, but together are strong. Fascio is also the Italian word for “group” or “league”. Once a hardline socialist, Mussolini went on to declare that “Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail.”, and that “Fascism is the complete opposite of Marxian style socialism.” (World Future Fund: 'The Doctrine of Facism”)

In to avoid being overthrown in a civil war between the Socialists and Fascists, Italian King Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to Rome to become the Prime Minister of Italy in 1922. Though King Emmanuel essentially gave up power by allowing Mussolini to appoint a cabinet stacked with Fascist Party members, he preserved his future freedom by avoiding a coup. Fascist propaganda would glorify Mussolini and his army’s journey to Rome to meet with Victor Emmanuel as the “March on Rome”, but sources indicate that the fascists may have actually took a train for most of the journey. (Thinkquest, “The March to Rome”)

Despite his previously communicated atheistic world view and continued irreligious behavior, Mussolini was quick to make allies of the Catholic church by compensating Pope Pious XIV for the the loss of the Papal States dissolved during the unification of Italy. He also wrote and signed the Latrine Pact, a treaty which re-established the Vatican as an independent state with the Pope as its leader. These moves won him support from the Italian Popular Party, an influential sector of the voting population he had failed to secure in his previous attempts to gain power.

In Parliament, Mussolini said “I affirm here that the Latin and imperial tradition of Rome today are represented by Catholicism… …the Italian state should certainly furnish the Vatican with material aid; those material facilities for schools, churches, hospitals and so forth…”, while only years before, he publicly debated with Swiss clergymen before a Socialist audience, arguing that God did not exist. (Time: “Bonito a Christian?”)

Mussolini immediately began to promote Fascism as a system which benefited the people and the prosperity of Italy. Using techniques he perfected in his years as a newspaper writer and editor, he created the myth of Fascist super-productivity and efficiency. One example of this propaganda was the idea that Mussolini made the Italian rail network run on schedule. Posters for Italian Railroads depicted Mussolini as an Atlas-like figure handing new passenger cars and faster locomotives to the Italian people. In actuality, most of the renovations to Italy’s railroads had already been complete by the time Mussolini took power in 1922, and the improvements had little to do with the Fascist Party. (Snopes: Loco Motive?)   

Other posters hailed Mussolini’s Italy as a return to the glory of the Roman Empire. After a brutal invasion of Ethiopia, a new series of posters superimposed Il Duce’s face over the African continent, proclaiming “Italy finally has it’s empire!”

Big business owners worried about a communist take over warmly welcomed Fascism. In Mussolini’s new system each industry was represented by an assembly dubbed a corporation. The corporation also took over the role of the workers unions, which meant that workers rights issues could only be discussed with the companies that employed the workers to begin with, and the conditions of workers gradually worsened to the benefit of the business owners. Regarding his new system, Mussolini said, “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” (Binary Quotes: Mussolini)

The Fascist propaganda machine also promoted “Battle” campaigns aimed at rapidly advancing the technologically backwards and economically crippled post war Italy. The “Battle for Births” aimed to double Italy’s population, and the “Battle for Gold” was a voluntary hand in of gold jewelry to the Italian treasury to be melted into coins. Participants were rewarded with iron armbands bearing the text “Gold for the Fatherland”. The disastrous “Battle for Wheat” campaign tried to dramatically increase Italy’s self sufficiency by expanding wheat production. Land better suited for other crops was taken over for wheat growth, which resulted in a poor grain harvest and a sacristy in the crops that could have been planted instead of wheat. (Euronet: Mussolini)

After more then a decade as Italy’s dictator, Mussolini became allies with Adolf Hitler of Germany to form the Axis, which the Empire of Japan joined soon after. Fascist Italy fought the Allies and was generally unsuccessful on all fronts. Fascist Statesman (and former friend of Mussolini) Dino Grandi successfully demanded the king to revoke power from Mussolini, and the dictator was arrested and locked up while Marshal Pietro Badgolio negotiated an official surrender with the Allies.

Mussolini was rescued by the Germans and placed as the puppet leader of the “Italian Social Republic”, the north-easetern corridor of Italy controlled by Germany. While attempting to flee to Austria with several of his ISR officers, Mussolini was captured by Italian anti-faciast partisans and executed. His body was hung at an Esso gas station in Mezzegra Italy on April 27, 1945. (Mussolini in the World War. The Journalist, the Soldier, the Fascist. Berg, Oxford and NY.)

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