Are dictators revered in their countries

Benito Mussolini

Rebel youth

Benito Mussolini was born in 1883 in the small village of Predappio in Emilia Romagna. His mother, Rosa, was an ambitious elementary school teacher, to whom Mussolini owed his training in a Catholic boarding school. The father Alessandro worked as a blacksmith. Actually, for the conditions at the time in Italy, which was shattered by chaos and economic problems, it was a solid family home.

But even the young Mussolini was a rebel. He had difficulty subordinating himself to authorities and accepting social rules. That is why he gave up his civil profession as a teacher at an early age and fled to Switzerland in 1902. There and later in Trento, Austria, he led an unsteady life.

Mussolini tested his talent as a political agitator and developed a keen interest in political theories. But he did not subscribe to any ideology. He changed his political convictions as soon as it seemed useful to him. In 1909 Mussolini returned to Italy and initially worked as a political journalist. Six years later he married his wife Rachele, with whom he had a total of five children.

The March on Rome

Mussolini was seriously injured in World War I, but quickly returned to the political arena after his recovery. He cleverly set up a new, "fascist" movement. On March 23, 1919, he founded the "Fascist Combat League", also known as the "Black Shirts", in Milan.

Former front-line soldiers, politically homeless people and, above all, numerous sons of the northern Italian landowners gathered in these combat troops. They were united by a longing for violent, politically not clearly defined actionism. Soon there was bloody street terror in the northern Italian cities. The fascists took particularly hard action against socialists, communists and the Slavic minority.

But Mussolini could not take power in Italy with the fighting leagues alone - the fear of a revolution was too deep among the political rulers of the government of Giovanni Giolitti and his successor Ivanoe Bonomis. Mussolini was feverishly working on a plan: he transformed the fascist movement into the legal "Partito Nazionale Fascista" (PNF), which primarily pursued military activism.

This new party was personally subordinate to the "Duce" (leader) and was officially elected to the Italian parliament in the new elections on May 15, 1921. Mussolini's dual strategy, on the one hand to make use of the threat potential of the violent fascists and on the other hand to come to power with a legal party, worked.

When Bonomi's government overthrew in February 1922, Mussolini took advantage of the situation and increased the pressure by renewed acts of violence by the fighting alliances on Italy's streets. He demanded that power be transferred to the fascists, which he finally succeeded.

On October 28, 1922, Mussolini marched with his followers to Rome. Fascism had swelled into a mass movement. King Vittorio Emanuele III. - Italy was a parliamentary monarchy - could no longer avoid it and entrusted Mussolini with the formation of a new government.

But despite Mussolini's threatening gestures, it was not a coup: the "Duce" only allowed his "black shirts" to march into Rome after the bourgeois parties and King Mussolini had assured the office of prime minister.

Just three years later, the "Duce" announced his personal dictatorship and, by the end of the 1920s, gradually converted Italy's political system into a totalitarian state.

Mussolini - Duce, Emperor and General

Mussolini used the whole range of propagandistic means to expand his rule. Italian fascism was a leadership dictatorship tailored to Mussolini. With all means he promoted the cult around himself and built fascism into a mass movement. In this movement the individual was irrelevant, only the community counted.

Mussolini implemented this principle even with the youngest children. The children were sworn to the "Duce" at an early age in the fascist organization "L'Opera Nazionale Balilla". Hitler later imitated this principle with the Hitler Youth. Mass events such as military marches and major sporting events should encourage popular approval.

It was almost impossible to evade the presence of the "Duce": There were postcards with the portrait of Mussolini everywhere, the traveling cinemas brought the dictator to the last corner of southern Italy and the newspapers did the rest.

Mussolini was everywhere. And that was what he wanted when it came to expanding the Italian sphere of power. He wanted to build on the Roman Empire of antiquity and expand his empire over the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

In 1934 Mussolini declared Libya an Italian colony, a year later he attacked what is now Ethiopia, participated on Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War and finally entered World War II on Germany's side in 1940.

Downfall of a dictator

In the early 1940s, fascism slowly came under fire from Mussolini's compatriots. Italy was exhausted from the constant wars. It slowly dawned on many that Italian fascism offered no solutions to the country's daunting problems.

When Mussolini then led the campaign against Greece on his own in 1940, the embarrassment was perfect. Hitler's army had to intervene to avert the Italian surrender in Greece. Defeat after defeat followed, which finally sealed the political fate of the "Duce" in July 1943.

When Allied troops landed in Sicily on July 9, 1943, the Fascist Grand Council, the constituent body of fascism, deposed Mussolini. He was arrested and eventually imprisoned on the Gran Sasso massif in Abruzzo.

But the "new" enemies of Mussolini had done their math without Hitler: he had his ally liberated in a spectacular action and at the same time occupied northern Italy by German troops. He installed Mussolini as the leader of the German occupied territories in Italy, also known as the "Marionette Republic of Salò".

Two years later, when the Germans could no longer avert their surrender, the "Duce" tried to flee to Switzerland with his lover Claretta Petacci. But he was caught by Italian resistance fighters on April 27, 1945 and shot together with his lover.

Author: Sandra Kampmann