Benito Mussolini was head of the Italian government from 1922 to 1943. He was the founder of fascism, and as a dictator he held absolute power and severely mistreated his citizens and his country. He led Italy into three straight wars, the last of which led to his overthrow by his own people.
He was so influential that the name of his Fascist party has since been adopted as a catch-all term for extreme right-wing politics based on racism, authoritarianism, and hate.
Mussolini had initially been a member of the Socialist Party in 1900 and had begun to attract wide admiration. In speeches and articles he was extreme and violent, urging revolution at any cost, but he was also well spoken. Mussolini held several posts as editor and labor leader until he emerged in the 1912 Socialist Party Congress. He became editor of the party's daily paper, Avanti, at the age of twenty-nine. His powerful writing injected excitement into the Socialist ranks. In a party that had accomplished little in recent years, his youth and his intense nature was an advantage. He called for revolution at a time when revolutionary feelings were sweeping the country.
However in March 1919 Mussolini founded another movement, Fighting Fascists, won the favor of the Italian youth, and waited for events to favor him. The elections in 1921 sent him to Parliament at the head of thirty-five Fascist deputies; the third assembly of his movement gave birth to a national party, the National Fascist Party, with more than 250 thousand followers and Mussolini as its uncontested leader. In October 1922 Mussolini successfully marched into Rome, Italy. He now enjoyed the support of key groups (industry, farmers, military, and church), whose members accepted Mussolini's solution to their problems: organize middle-class youth, control workers harshly, and set up a tough central government to restore "law and order." Thereafter, Mussolini attacked the workers and spilled their blood over Italy. It was the complete opposite of his early views of socialism.
Once in power, Mussolini took steps to remain there. He set general elections, but they were fixed to always provide him with an absolute majority in Parliament. He suspended civil liberties, destroyed all opposition, left wing parties were suppressed and in 1929 imposed an open dictatorship ( absolute rule). Yet Mussolini also carried out an extensive public-works programme and the fall in unemployment made him a popular figure in Italy.
In 1928 John Heartfield created The Face of Fascism a montage that dealt with the rule of Benito Mussolini which spread all over Europe with tremendous force. "A skull-like face of Mussolini is eloquently surrounded by his corrupt backers and his dead victims".
The League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and in November imposed sanctions. This included an attempt to ban countries from selling arms, rubber and some metals to Italy. Some political leaders in France and Britain opposed sanctions arguing that it might persuade Mussolini to form an alliance with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany
Over 400,000 Italian troops fought in Ethiopia. The poorly armed Ethiopians were no match for Italy's modern tanks and aeroplanes. The Italians even used mustard gas on the home forces and were able to capture Addis Ababa, the capital of the country, in May 1936, forcing Emperor Haile Selassie to flee to England.
Outside Italy Mussolini is remembered as something of a buffoon. But he unleashed a cruel violence that, though it might not match that of Hitler or Stalin, was then something new in the world. Mussolini was responsible for the deaths of a million people. They were killed during the terror in Italy and vicious colonial wars in Libya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
They died because of his support for General Franco in the Spanish Civil War and fascist Italy's own butchery in the Second World War. Mussolini also waged a merciless war against the anti-fascist Resistance movement that liberated so much of Italy between 1943 and 1945 .
Though not the driving force behind the Second World War, he was drawn by ambition and ideology into an alliance with Nazi Germany, an alliance that invaded many countries.This alliance with Hitler involved the deportation of Italian Jews and compliance in the Holocaust.
As the tide of war turned, Italy was invaded, and in July 1943 disgruntled Italian politicians ousted Mussolini from power. He was imprisoned but then rescued by the Germans, who had invaded Italy when it made peace with the Allies.The Germans installed Mussolini as leader of a puppet state in northern Italy. But a combination of Italian partisans and Allied armies gradually drove back the Germans, who could not commit more troops thanks to the Allied liberation of France and invasion of Germany.
During the last days of the war in Italy, with defeat imminent fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, attempted to escape the advancing allied Army by hiding in a German convoy headed towards the Alps . Partisans stopped and searched the convoy and found Mussolini wearing a private's overcoat over his striped General's pants. The partisans seized Mussolini and Petacci. Fearing that the Nazis would again try to liberate the dictator, the partisans hid the pair in a remote farmhouse for the night. The following day, 28 April 1945 Mussolini and Petacci were removed from the house and driven to the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra on the shores of Lake Como. They were ordered to stand in front of a stone wall at the entrance to Villa Belmonte where both were executed by machine gun fire.
There’s no uncertainty, however, about what happened to Mussolini’s body in the hours after his execution. In the pre-dawn hours of April 29 the corpses of Mussolini, Petacci and 14 fellow fascists were placed in a truck and hung in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, a deeply symbolic public square for the anti-fascist forces. There, eight months earlier, fascists acting under orders from Hitler’s SS publicly displayed the bodies of 15 executed partisans.
After Mussolini’s arrest in July 1943, jubilant crowds mutilated images of the dictator. Now, as the sun rose on the “Square of the Fifteen Martyrs,” residents of Milan had the chance to do the same thing, only this time for real. They hurled invectives and vegetables at the dictator’s corpse before kicking, beating and spitting upon it. One woman, deciding Mussolini wasn’t dead enough for her, emptied a pistol into the dictator’s body and shouted, "Five shots for my five assassinated sons!" The executions are the first conspicuous demonstration of mob violence carried out by the partisans who until up to then had been kept under control by their leaders.The partisan commander-in-chief General Rafaea Cadorna said at the time that such incidents were regrettable but desirable in this case as a way for the public to vent their anger against the former dictator and his cohorts.
In early afternoon, American troops ordered the bodies to be taken down and Mussolini’s bullet-ridden corpse transported to the city morgue. By this point, Mussolini’s badly beaten body was barely recognizable, but a U.S. Army photographer still staged the bodies of the former dictator and his mistress in each other’s arms in a macabre pose. Benito Mussolini who brought destruction to 20th century Europe, died in ignominy but it was a death that brought peace to many oppressed by the man known as Il Duce.
After his death and the display of his corpse in Milan, Mussolini was buried in an unmarked grave in the Musocco cemetery, to the north of the city. On Easter Sunday 1946, Mussolini’s body was located and dug up by a young fascist, Domenico Leccisi, and two friends.] Over a period of sixteen weeks it was moved from place to place ,the hiding places included a villa, a monastery and a convent — while the authorities searched for it. Eventually, in August, the body (with a leg missing) was tracked down to the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery not far from Milan. Two Franciscan friars were charged with assisting Leccisi hide the body.
Sadly the anniversary of Mussolini’s death on 28 April has become one in which neo-fascist supporters mark with major rallies. In Predappio, Mussolinis home town a march takes place between the centre of town and the cemetery. The event usually attracts sskinheads and self proclaimed fascists that includes speeches, songs and people giving the fascist salute
When Adolf Hitler heard how Mussolini had been executed and put on public display , he vowed hat he would not let it happen to him. A few days later , Hitler shot his mistress and new wife Eva Braunn, and then after swallowing some poison shot himself in the moth. The Russians found remains of his teeth.
Long may the forces of fascism be defeated and given no victory .
The executions of Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci
Link to archive on Italian resistance movement: https://libcom.org/tags/italian-resistance