Il Duce: Benito Mussolini Essay, Research Paper
“Il Duce”: A close look at the Fascist rule of Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was an influential man, captivating many, who spoke with charisma and charm, at a time when Italy needed a leader with both. He formed the first fascist government in history, using values derived from capitalism and militarism, but combining them in such a way that protected the capitalists and still appeased the discontented poor, and the working class. Approximately ten years into Mussolini’s rule, around 1932, (Grolier 1999) Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany, and built a government very similar to that of Mussolini’s. They became friends, after an initial period of disinterest towards each other, and while both countries prospered, they both raced towards impending disaster. When studying these topics, the following statement can be made: Benito Mussolini was a very influential leader, whose fascist government was incredibly similar to the Nazi party under Adolf Hitler, and was extremely beneficial to Italy’s economic situation while it was in power. Throughout this essay, these three statements will be explored, in an attempt to bring light to the question of why Mussolini’s rule was so successful.
To begin with, Mussolini was a man of great influence. This fact is indisputable. Everywhere he went, from political meetings in his offices, to his great public speeches at Palazzo Venezzia, to his numerous campaigns to the streets if Italy to gain the support of the poor and middle classes, he always spoke with a powerful effect. Mussolini left audiences in nearly idolatrous agreement with whatever he said. “The crowd is like a woman? The crowd likes a strong man” (Hibbert 1962: 35). These words, Mussolini’s own, send us the direct message of his great ability to speak. Mussolini knew the importance of a hired claque, and frequently employed them to start the chanting of slogans, which played a major part in his campaigns. Examples of slogans he employed range anywhere from the Nationalist inspired ‘Viva L’italia’ to the much more action-suggestive line, borrowed from Napoleon, ‘Revolution is an idea which has found bayonets’. (Hibbert 1962: 21) Mussolini was a master of not only the spoken word, but also the written one: During his career, he was constantly the editor of newspapers, for which he wrote the majority, if not all, of the political articles. First, the Avanti!, and later his own Il Popolo d’Italia were his staging grounds for countless articles professing his own totally correct opinions. A master of propaganda, he had photographs of himself placed daily in his newspaper. They depict him, sweating away shirtless in the sun, a true symbol of inspiration for the Italians to work hard: “We shall succeed, because we shall work” was a common slogan at the time of his early government, roughly 1924. (Hibbert 1962: 40) His appeal was not only to his own people: On a visit to Germany he spoke to over 900,000 troops of Hitler’s army, in German, in a bristling speech pronouncing the brotherhood of all Italians and all Germans (Hibbert 1962: 154). While there were differences in the Nazi and Fascist parties, there were also great similarities.
Hitler’s army may have been a sore point with Mussolini: His own army was far inferior, and was comprised of much less advanced technology and techniques. “His air force consisted of BI-planes that looked good at air shows, but stood no chance against the smaller and faster aircraft of the day.” (Infonautics Corporation (a) 2000). However, military forces were one of the few areas of government where Mussolini and Hitler differed: Another was the Jewish question, or, so to say, the agenda of racial purging of non-native peoples. Mussolini’s attitude towards this issue was anger. He saw no reason for Hitler to be attacking a group because of their racial background, and initially argued that to do so was pure insanity (Hibbert 1962: 87). However, he quickly changed his tone, as was a common trait of Mussolini’s, and during 1939, true anti-Semitic policies were being put into place against Jews in Italy. (Hibbert 1962: 102). Like Hitler, he commonly used violence to stop political uprisings, as well as have any ministers of his cabinet shot that he believed might grow to be his adversaries. He abolished the free vote, and he had all government posts appointed by him alone, as did Hitler, allowing complete control of his government. As Hitler employed youth clubs, so did Mussolini, recruiting children as young as four years into Fascist youth clubs, supplying them with toy guns and black shirts, which bred Hitler’s concept of brown shirts (Hibbert 1962: 51). Like Hitler’s party, the Italian Fascists were intensely anti communist, and this was reflected in both the Fascist and the Nazi party’s rule in attempts to crush the Soviet concept of Bolshevism, although it was never truly established in German or Italy (Braakhuis 1998).
However, crushing small political groups was not a major issue of Mussolini’s when he came into office. When he was asked by King Victor Emmanuel to form the government in Rome in 1922, he was ready. However, as he still persisted on stating later in his rule, he said that his Fascist party did not have a political programme, but instead would concentrate on the matters at hand, to avoid swamping the government in needless bureaucratic processes. When he gained power, the matter at hand was money. Italy had, in August of 1922, called a general strike, which Mussolini claimed the Fascists could end. At the time, before his rise in power, they burnt several buildings to the ground, in an ineffective attempt to end the strike. (Hibbert 1962: 32) However, once he was in power, through careful management, which he may have learned during his time in the military, the strike was resolved. He cut government expenditures, and major industries were turned around. The postal service’s deficit of 500 million lire became a surplus of 43 million in only two years, and the deficit in the rail system of 1,400 lire was transformed into a surplus of 176 million in the same time period. (Hibbert 1962: 40) Mussolini’s often-ruffled appearance was not linked with the way he handled his finances.
It was said that Mussolini made the trains run on time. However, his method for achieving this is not always explained: If the train was late, the conductor was summarily executed. (Braakkhuis 1998) This may stand as an example of Mussolini’s means, which were used unscrupulously throughout his rule. He was executed on April 28, 1945, and with his death ended a great period of Italian history. It was said that he was executed by his enemies for “crimes against the Italian people”, but one must ask the question, did the people not benefit under his rule, however oppressive it may have been? (C, Darrel 1997) Under Mussolini, Italy prospered through the leadership of an extremely influential man. He could hold a crowd wherever he travelled, inspired Adolf Hitler to build his Nazi regime, one of the most awe-inspiring political organisations that has every existed, and provided economic turnaround to a country who was severely indebted before he came to power. One can only wonder, if Il Duce would have stayed out of the Second World War, and broken contact with Hitler. Could he be in power today?
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