Benito Mussolini 1883-1945
Italian politician, journalist, and autobiographer.
One of the most notorious dictators of the twentieth century, Mussolini left an important body of writings that reveal his transition from socialist agitator to founder and leader of Italian fascism. Both his journalistic output and his political ideology were strongly marked by a hyperbolic call to action and a defiant tone of rebellion as well as nationalist rhetoric regarding his belief in the possibility of a rebirth of the ideals of classical Rome.
Mussolini was born in the village of Predappio in Italy's Romagna region. His father, a blacksmith with anarchist leanings, named him after three renowned revolutionaries. His mother, an elementary school teacher, was devoutly Catholic, sometimes to the point of mysticism, and she convinced Mussolini early on that he was destined for greatness. The young Mussolini was an avid reader of political and philosophical works—most significantly those of Friedrich Nietzsche and Niccolo Machiavelli—but, lacking motivation and acutely aware of his low social status, he drifted among odd jobs (at one point working as a French teacher) for several years before emigrating to Switzerland. There he lived homeless and unemployed for a time and was eventually taken in by a group of revolutionary Italian socialists. Mussolini soon proved himself a fiery orator for the socialist cause, and in 1908 he became an editor at an Italian socialist newspaper in Trent, Austria, where he refined his propagandist writing.
In 1912 Mussolini was appointed editor-in-chief of Avanti!, the official newspaper of Italian socialism, based in Milan. He was highly successful as a journalist and rose to a place of prominence in the Socialist Party. But in 1914 he abruptly reversed his stance against Italy's entrance into World War I, advocating that his country fight with the Allied forces. For that Mussolini was expelled from the Socialist Party and immediately started a pro-war newspaper called Il popolo d'Italia (The People of Italy), in whose pages he developed the founding principles of fascism. In 1915 he married Rachele Guidi, with whom he had lived since 1909. When Italy entered the war that year, Mussolini enlisted in the army; he saw active service but was released after being wounded in a practice session in 1917. He resumed publication of his newspaper in 1918. The next year, encouraged in part by the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, Mussolini founded a radical nationalist group called the Fasci di Combattimento, whose members included mostly war veterans. The group failed to make serious inroads in the election of 1919 but soon gained strong support among both wealthy landowners and the impoverished masses. In 1921 Mussolini's group organized formally into the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party), which was characterized by extreme right-wing nationalism and left-wing economic reform. The party also featured the Blackshirts—squads of thugs officially responsible for beating and brutalizing dissenters, including Catholics, liberals, and socialists. In 1922 Mussolini's Fascists organized theMarch on Rome to protest a liberal call to strike. In response to the ensuing panic, King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini prime minister, with the responsibility of creating a new Italian government. Mussolini was officially installed as leader in 1924; although the Fascists employed ballot-box fraud to ensure his victory, he received more than enough genuine votes to elect him. Despite the ruthlessness of the Fascist Party secret police and the party's blatant use of strong-arm tactics, Mussolini was popular with most of the Italian people, who called him “Il Duce” (the leader). His rigid policies helped lift Italy out of its economic depression, and his passionate rhetoric promising a return to Italian imperialism further fueled the nationalist fervor.
In 1924 Mussolini called for open elections in Italy; but when Giacomo Matteotti—a legally elected Socialist—began his government service by exposing Fascist corruption, he was found murdered, ostensibly by Mussolini's henchmen. A parliamentary crisis followed, and the Fascists were widely denounced by their opposition. Subsequently, Mussolini reinstated his absolute dictatorship, creating policies of censorship and anti-unionism. He also signed the 1929 Lateran Treaty, which ended the discord between the Italian government and the Roman Catholic Church, establishing Vatican City and placing the pope in the role of sovereign; this move ensured an end to the Catholic stance against the Mussolini-led government. At this time, Mussolini's popularity soared at home—where he was regarded as a god-like figure—and abroad, including in the United States, where many in the artistic and intellectual community embraced him as a romantic symbol of power and masculine vigor. Once his domestic control was secure, Mussolini launched an intense foreign military campaign, invading and annexing Ethiopia from 1935 to 1936, aiding Spain's Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and entering into the alliance that would prove disastrous: his affiliation with Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler. Until that point, Mussolini had privately considered Hitler to be slightly insane, but, becoming increasingly unstable himself, he saw Germany's successful campaign in Europe as a complement to his own desire for power, going so far as to publicly adopt Hitler's anti-Semitism and allowing Italy to participate in the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jews. Although Mussolini sent troops to occupy Albania in 1939, Italy did not enter World War II until 1940. But Italy's involvement in the war turned out to be a catastrophe for Mussolini and the Axis nations: Italy suffered devastating defeats in Africa and Greece, and Mussolini himself fell into physical and mental collapse. King Victor Emmanuel and Fascist Party leaders quickly lost confidence in Mussolini, removing him from office and placing him under arrest at Mount Gran Sasso. German planes rescued him from his prison, and Hitler installed him as a puppet leader of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy, where he became more detached from reality. But when Allied forces moved further into Italy, and an Allied victory was imminent, Mussolini was captured by communist rebels when he tried to escape to Austria with his mistress, Clara Petacci. The two were executed by machine gun fire on 28 April 1945; as a sign of Mussolini's total political failure, their bodies were hung in a public square in Milan.
Despite his alliance with Hitler, Mussolini was well-regarded by his fellow Italians and by many in the international community, largely because of his reputation as a no-nonsense upstart with grandiose plans for Italy and because, unlike Hitler, he focused his message on Italian nationalism rather than racial purity. Even in his earliest forays into journalism, he exhibited an unusual talent for stirring emotions; the headlines he wrote, in particular, are remembered for their propagandistic, attention-grabbing quality. By the time he was appointed prime minister—threatening to seize the position by force if necessary—he had capitalized on this talent to present himself as a dynamic, charismatic leader who would lead Italy out of its chronic disorder and agrarian-based economy. In fact, many of Mussolini's early policies did cut government spending and bureaucracy and boost Italy's economy; because of the discipline with which he ran things, he became known as the leader who made Italy's trains run on time. He was especially noted for his speeches, which were impassioned but controlled and staccato, during which he exploited his personal magnetism and sexual bravado. But his success was in great part due to his encouragement of police brutality and his notion of himself as infallible dictator. He frequently sanctioned the assassinations of those he considered enemies, ruthlessly tortured and executed artists and intellectuals during his failed campaign to annex Ethiopia, and ultimately led Italy to disaster and indignity because of his appetite for ever-greater power.
La lotta di classe [editor] (newspaper) 1908-1912
Claudia Particella, l'amante del cardinale Madruzzo (serialized novel) 1910
Avanti! [editor] (newspaper) 1912-1914
Il popolo d'Italia [editor] (newspaper) 1914-1915, 1918-1922
Il mio diario di guerra, 1915-1917 (diary) 1923
My Autobiography, by Benito Mussolini (autobiography) 1928
Dottrina del fascismo [The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism] (nonfiction) 1933
Lo stato corporativo [The Corporate State] (nonfiction) 1936
Tempo del bastone e della carota [The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story] (memoirs) 1948
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SOURCE: “Who Are the War Criminals?” in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1968, pp. 319-25.
[Orwell was an English novelist, essayist, and journalist. In the following review of The Trial of Mussolini,which was originally published in the London Tribune, Orwell argues against both the sense and the effectiveness of a war crimes trial for Mussolini, noting that before the advent of World War II, the dictator received support from other European leaders.]
On the face of it, Mussolini's collapse was a story straight out of Victorian melodrama. At long last Righteousness had triumphed, the wicked man was discomfited, the mills of God were doing their stuff. On second thoughts, however, this moral tale is less simple and less edifying. To begin with, what crime, if any, has Mussolini committed? In power politics there are no crimes, because there are no laws. And, on the other hand, is there any feature in Mussolini's internal régime that could be seriously objected to by any body of people likely to sit in judgment on him? For, as the author of this book [The Trial of Mussolini by “Cassius”] abundantly shows—and this in fact is the main purpose of the book—there is not one scoundrelism committed by Mussolini between 1922 and 1940 that...
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SOURCE: “How Mussolini Fell,” in The Political Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 4, October-December, 1946, pp. 320-9.
[In the following essay, Saporiti details Mussolini's last days of power.]
Twenty-fifth July, 1943, started in Rome like any other Sunday. Under the burning sun, the rare passers-by who crossed the Piazza Venezia looked furtively towards the famous balcony from which, for many years, a meglomaniac had given them his orders. In front of the Palazzo Venezia, two sentries paced up and down. Everything looked normal enough, yet since the night before vague unquiet seemed to linger everywhere in the capital.
Twenty-six men were sitting in their homes, waiting for news. They were the actors in the drama which had come to a climax the night before and they knew that a turning-point had been reached in the history of Italy. Their vote of the night before had for ever closed a period of tyranny and ended the dictatorship of “one man and one man alone.”
During the meeting on the night before, of the Fascist Grand Council in Rome, the youngest of the members present, Signor Giuseppe Bottai, former Minister of Education, had made a verbatim account of the session. He had perhaps realized its historic importance earlier than the others; or his university education had possibly given him the habit of taking notes. The fact remains that the details recorded by him...
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SOURCE: A review of The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story, in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LXIV, No. 3, September, 1949, pp. 469-71.
[In the following review of The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story by Benito Mussolini, Albrecht-Carrié considers the volume a “distorted” account of the events surrounding Mussolini's last days in power but valuable nonetheless for posterity.]
“One fact has been definitely overlooked in everything that has been written on the Italian catastrophe of the summer of 1943: France originated the catastrophe on a specific date, November 8, 1942” (p. 5, text). This opening sentence of [The Fall of Mussolini: His Own Story, by Benito Mussolini], surely an original interpretation of events, is not an unfair measure of the value of Mussolini's account as history. It would be all too easy in fact, as pointed out in the introductory preface, to riddle these articles, originally published in the Corriere della Sera in 1944, for their inaccuracies and omissions. They have interest nevertheless, but on a different level.
However distorted, whether by purpose or blindness, Mussolini's view of the manner and causes of his downfall constitutes in itself a historic document of importance. Nor is he unaware of the possibilities of a Napoleonic legend after the lapse of a sufficient interval of time. In the face of the unfavorable turn of...
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The English Historical Review (essay date 1951)
SOURCE: A review of Benito Mussolini: Memoirs 1942-1943, in The English Historical Review, Vol. LXVI, No. 260, July, 1951, p. 454.
[In the following review of Benito Mussolini: Memoirs 1942-1943, the anonymous critic considers the memoirs biographically and politically significant but otherwise lacking in substance.]
Benito Mussolini: Memoirs 1942-1943 consists of twenty-one articles written by Mussolini in the spring and early summer of 1944, and published, anonymously in the first instance, between 25 June and 18 July 1944 in the Corriere della Sera. They were republished hastily, with many signs of hurried editing, on 9 August 1944, as a small booklet, with the author's name prominently displayed; a second and much more handsome edition, with two further chapters and some documents, was published by the Milan firm of Mondadori in November. The title of the first edition, Il tempo del bastone e della carota (a reference to Mr. Churchill's statement in Washington on 26 May 1943 that it was intended to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends), was retained as a sub-title in the second edition, Storia di un anno. This English translation by Frances Lobb was exhaustively edited by Professor Raymond Klibansky even before Mussolini's death, although it was not published in Great Britain...
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Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1962)
SOURCE: “Duce and Führer,” in The Times Literary Supplement, November 30, 1962, p. 936.
[In the following review of The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Fall of Italian Fascism,the anonymous critic calls the book “enthralling reading.”]
Mr. Deakin's The Brutal Friendship is above all a book for specialists and must be judged as such; within the stern limits he has set himself it is a very fine piece of writing and for the specialist it makes enthralling reading. As Mr. Deakin explains, the book grew out of a study of the events leading to the meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on July 24, 1943, and its theme is essentially that of the decline and fall of Mussolini; Hitler is there rather as Mussolini's love-hate nightmare: when he woke from it both their lives ended.
The outline story of Mussolini's fall was already well known, though it is easily corrupted by the popular appeal of its very absurdity. Mr. Deakin has, however, been able to add not only much evidence of first-class importance but also evidence which modifies and extends the story we thought we knew. To begin with he presents a picture of the regionalism and incompleteness of the system which Hitler liked to claim as the model for his own totalitarianism. He is able to quote extensively from the new source of...
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SOURCE: “Ciano's Early Diary,” in Europe in Decay: A Study in Disintegration 1936-1940, Peter Smith, 1963, pp. 106-28.
[In the following essay, Namier examines Mussolini and his regime using the diary of his foreign minister and son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.]
In a secluded room of the Italian Foreign Office, the Palazzo Chigi, Ciano kept his diary, making in it his daily entries. Married to Mussolini's daughter Edda, an ambitious woman, he was appointed Foreign Minister in 1936, at the age of 33, and retained the post till February 1943. The diary, which starts on August 23, 1937, covers practically his entire term of office. He greatly cherished these records, and would show them, or read passages from them, even to strangers; and in his last entry, written in Verona jail on December 23, 1943, shortly before his execution, he refers regretfully to the “excellent material” which they would have made for his autobiography, while in a letter addressed the same day to Mr. Churchill he speaks of them as evidence against the Nazis, “this loathsome clique of bandits … with whom later that tragic puppet Mussolini associated himself through his vanity and disregard of moral values”. How much must Ciano have forgotten of his own thoughts and actions! especially of those recorded in the diary for 1937-1938, now published for the first time. The five books covering the years 1939-1943, Edda Ciano...
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SOURCE: “The American Writer, Fascism and the Liberation of Italy,” in American Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter, 1966, pp. 599-614.
[In the following essay, Diggins explains the varied reactions of American literary intellectuals—including Henry Miller, John Horne Burns, Sinclair Lewis, and Ernest Hemingway—to Italian fascism and Mussolini, noting that few American writers managed to rise above “narcissistic nationalism” when dealing with the issue in their works.]
The sudden fall of Benito Mussolini in July 1943 brought poetic as well as political justice. The first nation to succumb to Fascism, Italy was the first to be liberated by the democracies. To many Americans, the Allied advance up through the Italian boot seemed a cleansing “wind of the south” which, matched by the partisans' “vento del nord,” would soon purge Italy of her Fascist past, redeem her liberal heritage and ultimately destroy the Thousand Year Reich beyond the Alps. The coming of victory could not help but nurture a revival of Wilsonian idealism, for even if Americans were not fighting to make the world safe for democracy they were at least fighting to make Europe safe from Fascism. Yet the official American attitude toward the war, perhaps best expressed in Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms” declaration, could not explain the sentiments of two American writers in Italy at the time of the invasion; Ezra Pound...
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SOURCE: “Mussolini as American Hero,” in Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America, Princeton University Press, 1972, pp. 58-73.
[In the following essay, Diggins explores Mussolini's appeal to Americans as a signifier of heroic redemption.]
THE IMAGES OF MUSSOLINI
To conclude a study of the Mussolini vogue [in Mussolini and Facism: The View from America] by maintaining that in America he was nothing more than a press-manufactured celebrity is only half the story. Dismissing him as the product of a news-hungry media and a public given to dramatic “pseudo-events” ignores two salient facts: that neither publicity nor propaganda can by itself create a popular “symbolic hero,” and that Mussolini enjoyed the acclaim of many prominent contemporaries who were uninfluenced by the press. It would be tedious to quote here the lavish accolades heaped upon him by such astute admirers as Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps it suffices to mention that Mussolini was deemed worthy of a book by Emil Ludwig, author of studies on Napoleon, Lincoln, Bismarck, Frederick the Great, Masaryk, Freud, Wagner, Goethe, Byron, Wilson, Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt. Whatever Mussolini's reputation is today, from the time of the March on Rome to the beginning of the Ethiopian War he was an esteemed figure. Americans in particular saw in Mussolini certain enduring qualities...
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SOURCE: “The Not-So-Great Dictator,” in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXI, No. 16, October 17, 1974, pp. 22-4.
[In the following review of Mussolini: An Intimate Biography by His Widow, Barzini describes conditions in Italy that led to Mussolini's rise to power and many personal and character traits that may have led to his fall.]
Perhaps the ruin of Benito Mussolini was Giuseppe Garibaldi, the legendary hero of the Risorgimento. Like Mussolini, Garibaldi was a rough, self-taught, and credulous man of the people; in his youth he had had utopian and confused revolutionary ideas, but, in the end, he rallied to the king and, perhaps unwittingly, became a prop of the establishment. His ardent patriotism inflamed Italian radical nationalists, with pernicious consequences. His charm was magic, scores of women fell in love with him and men died for him in his presence and smiled. Garibaldi was always or almost always victorious (in reality he fought brilliant guerrilla skirmishes which piety later turned into vast and tidy battles); he was the first to be called Il Duce, a pompous nineteenth-century opera libretto title, by antonomasia (Mussolini had been called Il Duce by his socialist followers before 1914 and took the title with him to the Fascist party).
Garibaldi was also the first to dress his followers in colored shirts. His luck (or his self-knowledge) however spared...
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SOURCE: ELH, Vol. 55, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 505-26.
[In the following essay, Dasenbrock chooses the middle section of Ezra Pound's Cantos as the basis to understanding Pound's changing views on Mussolini and Italian fascism during the 1930s. Dasenbrock argues that while Pound believed that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were to be equated politically with Mussolini, he also recognized the polarity of the two early American politicians, and his shift from Jeffersonian ideology to that of Adams, as seen in the Cantos, represents his changing thoughts regarding Mussolini's political doctrine.]
Certainly one of the difficulties faced by criticism of Ezra Pound's Cantos has been the sheer difficulty of coming to terms with the constantly changing nature and design of the poem. The initial attempts to define that design proceeded largely in spatial and atemporal terms, describing an unchanging plan Pound presumably began the poem with and then proceeded to execute.1 But after the work of Stanley Fish and other reader-response critics, contemporary criticism is far more comfortable with poems being dynamic entities, and both because of this shift and because none of the static designs has proven generally persuasive, recent criticism has moved away from thinking in terms of a grand structure towards a more dynamic and historical sense of the poem.2 Pound...
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SOURCE: “Reading Pound's Politics: Ulysses as Fascist Hero,” in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Vol. 17, Nos. 2 & 3, Fall & Winter, 1988, pp. 145-68.
[In the following essay, Sicari examines Ezra Pound's Cantos written before the fall of Mussolini and Italian fascism to find evidence of Pound's conception of the prototypical fascist hero.]
To understand Ezra Pound's admiration for Italian Fascism in general and Mussolini in particular, we can examine the poet's conception of heroic action in those of The Cantos written before the fall of the Fascist State.1 In 1938 Pound described “the Malatesta cantos” as “openly volitionist, establishing, I think clearly, the effect of the factive personality” (Guide to Kulchur 194). Sigismundo Malatesta is a hero for this poet because he manages to create something beautiful and good despite the obstacles inherent in a corrupt culture: “All that a single man could, Malatesta manages against the current of power” (GK 159). I shall argue that the poet's early work on The Cantos prepares him to embrace a “fascist” conception of the hero whose strong and directed will can transcend historical determinism and alter humanity's course through history. His enthusiasm for Mussolini springs from decisions made first in his poetry.2
Pound develops and...
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SOURCE: “Adams, Mussolini, and the Personality of Genius,” in Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Vol. 18, No. 3, Winter, 1989, pp. 77-103.
[In the following essay, Cody suggests that the attraction of Mussolini was related to the notion of “personality” advanced by the German Romantics, which sought to distinguish itself from both the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy by its tenet of inborn—rather than inherited or gained—superiority.]
In his book Fables of Aggression, Fredric Jameson suggests that both Wyndham Lewis' narratives and his fascist sympathies reveal efforts to defend the integrity of the subject against the threat posed to it by industrial capitalism, socialism, and communism. Jameson notes that Lewis' writing before World War I displayed a certain degree of fascination with the way machines and businesses manipulate workers' actions, and Jameson writes that “the exploration of this narrative option would by its own inner logic and momentum have ended up positioning Lewis squarely on the Left.”1 But after the war which seemed to send men automatically to their deaths, Lewis' writing changed. Lewis and other modernists (Jameson quotes The Waste Land) describe men as “indistinct ideas” and as shades in Dante's Inferno. In opposition to these men stripped of their personalities, Lewis offers the “strong personality,” the...
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SOURCE: “Ezra Pound, the Last Ghibelline,” in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 16, No. 4, Spring, 1990, pp. 511-32.
[In the following essay, Dasenbrock argues that Ezra Pound's devotion to Mussolini must be understood within the context of Pound's reading and understanding of the political writings of the late-medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri, particularly in light of Dante's idealization of King Henry VII as a God figure, which may have influenced Pound's perception of Mussolini.]
No one can justly complain any longer, as once one could, that Pound's politics are a neglected topic. Everyone writing on Pound now has something to say about “the case of Ezra Pound,” and the work of many younger critics—quick to condemn where an earlier generation was quick to excuse—argues for a direct relation between Pound's life and work and his economics, support of Fascism, and anti-Semitism: between the poetry and the politics.1 But a central piece of the puzzle still escapes us. It is clear enough that Pound's admiration for Mussolini was a—perhaps the—key catalyst in his evolution towards a pro-Fascist position. Jefferson and/or Mussolini is evidence enough that Pound's admiration was for Mussolini himself, and his idealization of the man always far outstripped his idealization of his regime. This attitude culminates in the opening passage of Canto 74, in which the dead...
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De Fiori, Vittorio E. Mussolini: The Man of Destiny. Translated by Mario A. Pei. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1928, 222 p.
Biography focusing on Mussolini's victories in his early years of power.
Fermi, Laura. Mussolini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961, 477 p.
Attempts to reexamine Mussolini, particularly “the traits that make a dictator and the forces that mold him and allow him to rise.”
Kirkpatrick, Ivone. Mussolini: Study of a Demagogue. London: Odhams Books, Ltd., 1964, 669 p.
Undertakes a balanced but somewhat sympathetic portrait of Mussolini.
Smith, Denis Mack. Mussolini. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981, 429 p.
Presents a political biography of Mussolini.
Carr, Albert. “Mussolini Strikes against Democracy.” In Men of Power: A Book of Dictators, pp. 179-97. Revised edition. New York: Viking Press, 1956.
Focuses on Mussolini's talent for propaganda and for dramatizing Italy's political and economic situation in order to sway the Italian people to his side.
Gregor, A. James. Young Mussolini and the Intellectual Origins of Fascism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979, 271 p....
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