Benito Mussolini

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Mussolini, Benito

Mussolini, Benito (bānēˈtō mo͞os-sōlēˈnē), 1883–1945, Italian dictator and leader of the Fascist movement.

Early Career

His father, an ardent Socialist, was a blacksmith; his mother was a teacher. Mussolini taught briefly and lived (1902–4) in Switzerland to avoid military service. He achieved national prominence for his opposition to the Libyan War (1911–12) and, as leader of the revolutionary left of the Socialist party, became editor of the Socialist daily Avanti (1913). Soon after World War I began, Mussolini abruptly turned nationalist and joined the pro-Allied interventionists. The Socialist party, which opposed all participation in nationalist wars, expelled him. He then founded his own daily, the Popolo d'Italia, which was subsidized by the French to encourage Italy's entry into the war on the side of the Allies. He joined (1915) the army and attained the rank of corporal.

The Fascist Leader

In the troubled postwar period Mussolini organized his followers, mostly war veterans, in the Fasci di combattimento, which advocated aggressive nationalism, violently opposed the Communists and Socialists, and dressed in black shirts like the followers of D'Annunzio. Amid strikes, social unrest, and parliamentary breakdown, Mussolini preached forcible restoration of order and practiced terrorism with armed groups. In 1921 he was elected to parliament and the National Fascist party (see fascism) was officially organized. Backed by nationalists and propertied interests, in Oct., 1922, Mussolini sent the Fascists to march on Rome. King Victor Emmanuel III permitted them to enter the city and called on Mussolini, who had remained in Milan, to form a cabinet.

As the new premier, he gradually transformed the government into a dictatorship. In 1924 the Socialist deputy Matteotti was murdered. Opposition was put down by an efficient secret police and the Fascist party militia, and the press was regimented. Parliamentary government ended in 1928, and the state economy was reorganized along the lines of the Fascist corporative state. Conflict between church and state was ended by the Lateran Treaty (1929).

Mussolini was called Duce [leader] by his followers; his official title was “head of the government,” and he held, besides the premiership, as many portfolios as he saw fit. His ambition to restore ancient greatness found expression in grandiloquent slogans and speeches and in the erection of monumental buildings. The encouragement he gave to the already high Italian birth rate, his imperialistic designs, and his incitement of extreme nationalist groups created an explosive situation.

Fateful Alliance with Germany

Mussolini was at first cool to Adolf Hitler and opposed his designs on Austria. However, Mussolini's diplomatic isolation after his attack (1935) on Ethiopia led to a rapprochement with Germany. In 1936, Hitler and Mussolini aided Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War; the Rome-Berlin Axis was strengthened by a formal alliance (1939), which Mussolini's son-in-law and foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, helped to create.

In 1938, Mussolini allowed Hitler to annex Austria and helped bring about the Munich Pact; in Apr., 1939, he ordered the Italian occupation of Albania. Under German pressure, he inaugurated an anti-Semitic policy in Italy, which found little popular response. The Ethiopian and Spanish wars had diminished the Duce's popularity, and he did not enter World War II until France was falling in June, 1940.

The failure of Italian arms in Greece and Africa and the imminent invasion by the Allies of the Italian mainland at last caused a rebellion within the Fascist party. In July, 1943, the Fascist grand council refused to support his policy—dictated by Hitler—and the king dismissed him and had him placed under arrest. He was freed two months later by a daring German rescue party and became head of the Fascist puppet government set up in N Italy by Hitler.

On the German collapse (Apr., 1945) Mussolini was captured, tried in a summary court-martial, and shot with his mistress, Clara Petacci. Their bodies, brought to Milan, were hanged in a public square and buried in an unmarked grave. Mussolini's body was later removed, and in 1957 it was placed in his family's vault.


Many of Mussolini's political speeches and pamphlets have been translated into English. Mussolini's literary productions include The Cardinal's Mistress (tr. 1928) and John Huss (tr. 1929). My Autobiography (Eng. ed. 1939) is supplemented by The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story (tr. ed. by M. Ascoli, 1948). See also biographies by L. C. Fermi (1961), R. Collier (1971), M. Gallo (tr. 1973), R. Mussolini, his widow (tr. 1974), D. M. Smith (1981), and R. J. B. Bosworth (2002); studies by A. Cassels (1970) and D. M. Smith (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mussolini, Benito


Born July 29, 1883, in Forli; died Apr. 28, 1945, near Dongo. Head of the Italian Fascist Party, of the Fascist government in Italy from 1922 to 1943, and of the Salo Republic, a puppet government, from 1943 to 1945.

A schoolteacher, Mussolini began his political career as a member of the socialist movement and achieved prominence as a journalist and public speaker. From 1912 to 1914 he was editor of Avanti, the central organ of the Italian Socialist Party (ISP). Expelled from the ISP in November 1914 for agitating in favor of Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Entente, he founded the newspaper Il Popolo d’ltalia, which later became the semiofficial organ of the Fascist Party. In March 1919 he founded an organization of war veterans (the Fasci di Combattimento), which became known as the Fascist movement. Relying on Fascist detachments, Mussolini led an antidemocratic counterrevolutionary offensive, disguising its true character with unrestrained social and nationalist demagoguery. Supported by monopoly capital (Confindustria), the monarchy, and the Vatican, he staged a coup d’etat in October 1922. Despite a grave political crisis that engulfed the country after the Fascists assassinated the Socialist G. Matteotti in 1924, Mussolini managed to cling to power, taking advantage of the passivity of the anti-Fascist opposition (the Aventine Bloc) and invoking a reign of terror.

In 1926, Mussolini began to do away with constitutional liberties and establish an overt Fascist dictatorship. In 1929 he signed the Lateran agreements with the Vatican. By resorting to demagogic pronouncements regarding the feasibility of cooperation between labor and capital under a fascist corporate state, he guaranteed the most reactionary imperialist circles of the Italian bourgeoisie an opportunity for total domination of the economy and unlimited exploitation of the working class. The economy was militarized, and politics was dominated by nationalistic, expansionist objectives. Ethiopia was seized in 1936 and Albania in 1939.

After the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in Germany (1933), Mussolini concluded a political and military alliance with Germany, formalizing the relationship in a series of treaties. In 1940 he drew Italy into World War II on the side of Germany. Defeats suffered by fascist German and Italian troops in the war against the antifascist coalition and the strengthening of the antifascist movement in Italy led to the fall of Mussolini’s dictatorship on July 25, 1943. From 1943 to 1945 the Italian dictator headed a puppet government on Italian territory occupied by fascist German troops. He was captured by partisans near the Italian-Swiss border and executed by sentence of a military tribunal of the Committee of National Liberation of Northern Italy.


Alatri, P. Proiskhozhdenie fashizma. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from Italian.)
Slobodskoi, S. M. Ital’ianskii fashizm i ego krakh. Moscow, 1946. Dorso,
G. Mussolini alia conquista del potere. Turin, 1949.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.