Mussolini: The Swashbuckling Rapist

By Rick Kelo

MUSSOLINI!

  • Media darling (especially of the New York Times)
  • Loved by Americans (especially during his first 20 years in power anyway).
  • Loved by women – he slept with 169 of them including a bunch of actresses, royalty, and even his own biographer (Source 1).
  • Loved by Hollywood (numerous hit songs & even movies have been made about him)
  • Winston Churchill & Neville Chamberlain’s wives were both smitten by Mussolini.

Everyone loved Il Duce at one time or another, but what did Il Duce love?

 

BACKGROUND

We’re going to look at Mussolini’s life from early adulthood until right before he comes to power as head of the Italian government.  Then, in the next article, we’ll look at the uprising of Biennio Rosso, the famous March on Rome and the birth of Fascism.

 

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Mussolini’s father was a dedicated Marxist socialist who was part of the First International along with Marx & Engles.  He named his son after a series of socialist & revolutionary heroes so maybe its no surprise he became a revolutionary himself.

Mussolini’s full name was a bit of a mouthful: Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini.  His first name was in tribute to Benito Juarez.  His two middle names came from important socialist revolutionaries at the time: Amilcare Cipriani Andrea Costa.

 

ATHEIST

Mussolini was an atheist and often an outspoken critic of the Church.  In fact the first book he ever wrote was entitled “Man and Divinity” and is a litany of praise for atheism and a criticism of organized religion.  Later, while working as the Secretary of the Socialist Chamber of Labor, in 1909, he wrote a play named “Claudia Particella, the Cardinal’s Mistress,” which was a heavily sexualized denunciation of the Catholic priesthood.

Later in his life than we’re covering here Mussolini would convert to Roman Catholicism, although most historians seem to think this was a more of a symbolic gesture as the head of the Italian state than an actual change in his religious views.  Still that viewpoint can be found in a book entitled “Disputa sulla conversione di Benito Mussolini,” by Inno Innocenti that documents Mussolini’s relationship with jesuit priest Pietro Tacchi Venturi.  It was Venturi who would handle Mussolini’s formal conversion to Catholicism, and, after much urging, convince Mussolini to make a written declaration to that effect.  Mussolini named that document “Una Conversione” and Venturi wrote the preface for it.

 

SWASHBUCKER

Mussolini had a history of stabbing people with things from his early childhood.  As he grew older the things he stabbed them with grew larger.  By the age of 10 Mussolini was expelled from school for stabbing a classmate, he then stabbed another classmate at the next school he went to.  In the “Activism” timeline below you can read about how he stabbed one of his lovers too.

However, somewhere along the way Mussolini became very proficient with a sword.  He found himself in swordfights nearly constantly it seemed.  Here are the stories of a couple:

In his early days Mussolini would use a special code with his wife, Rachele, whenever he went off to duel to avoid frightening the children.  “Have spaghetti today,” he would say.  Rachele would take out the bloodstained shirt Mussolini fought all his duels in while the family handyman, Cirillo Tambara, would set off to the local store to buy pitch, with which Mussolini would coat his fencing glove so no adversary could inflict shame by disarming him.

Five duels took place while he was still a journalist, mainly between 1915 and 1922, the most memorable in October, 1921, against the socialist Francesco Cicotti, an old friend become a sworn enemy… the two men left their homes in Milan and travelled to Emlila to fight – closely followed by the police… The fight ended in Livorno on October 27th, after 14 separate starts, and then only because of fears for Cicotti’s health.

In his autobiography Mussolini described this last encounter with pride, “I had a duel of some consequence with Cicotti, a mean figure of a journalist… Among various imperfections one might say he had that of physical cowardice.  Our duel was proof of it.  After several assaults the physicians were obliged to stop the encounter because of the claim that my opponent had a heart attack.  In other words fear had set him all aflutter.”

~ Source: Richard Cohen, “By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions,” p. 322

 

RAPIST

Mussolini was a man’s man in the old style, Italian machissimo sense of the word.  Seems on some instances he took his “tyrannical lovin” a bit too far.  Here’s one description in Mussolini’s own words of a chance encounter he had with a random woman:

“I caught her on the stairs throwing her into a corner behind the door, and made her mine.  When she got up weeping and humiliated, she insulted me by saying I had robbed her of her honor and it is not impossible that she spoke the truth.”

Source: Jonathan Steinberg, “All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941-43” p. 176 quoting from Mussolini’s autobiography

 

ACTIVISM

  • 1900: Mussolini formally began his lifelong devotion to Socialism at age 17 by joining the Socialist Part.
  • 1901: Mussolini starts a job as the village schoolmaster.
  • 1901: Mussolini has his first affair with a married woman who’s husband is away in the army.  He would later describe their meetings to a friend: “I accustomed her to my exclusive and tyrannical love: she obeyed me blindly, and let me dispose of her as I wished.”
  • 1902: Mussolini loses his temper & stabs his lover in the leg. (Source 2)
  • 1902: Mussolini flees to Switzerland with nothing but his clothes & a medallion of Karl Marx.
  • 1903: Mussolini starts hanging out with Angelica Balabanoff, Lenin’s associate. This becomes significant later because Balbanoff would become the Secretary of the Third International in 1919 working for Lenin at the point Mussolini breaks from international socialism and founds national socialism.
  • 1903 – 1914: Mussolini writes countless books and translates almost all the socialist literature from France & Germany.
  • 1904: Mussolini is labelled an “enemy of society” and exiled from Switzerland, returns to Italy.
  • 1911: By now Mussolini’s love of writing is in full force.  He’s editor of “La lotta di classe,” which is one of the Italian Socialist Party’s main magazines.  He’ll go on to run “Avanti!” and numerous others.
  • 1912: Mussolini protests the Italo-Turkish War.  He calls for Italians to protest by blowing up train stations and setting barricades in the streets.  Predictably he’s charged with treason & thrown in prison for 5 months.

IL DUCE RISING

Mussolini took seriously Marx’s aphorism that the working-class had no country.  For this reason Mussolini opposed foreign military interventions by Italy (ironic, huh?).  Like you read in the activism timeline Mussolini winds up jailed for agitating anti-war protests & calling for a “general strike.”  (General strike was a Marxist term for the proletariat uprising where all workers everywhere ceased working.)

Eventually Mussolini is sent to prison for attempts to incite violent protests.  After 5 months Mussolini is released from prison and emerges as the preeminent super-star of Italian Socialism.  The Socialist Party holds a banquet in his honor.  It’s there that Olindo Vernocchi, the Secretary of the National Congress of the Socialist Party, toasts Mussolini and declares (Source 3) to all:

“From today you, Benito, are not only the representative of the Romagna Socialists but the Duce of all revolutionary socialists in Italy.”

This is where Mussolini acquired the nickname that would stick with him from that point forward: Il Duce.

Shortly hereafter Mussolini attends the Thirteenth Italian Socialist Congress.  The Italian Socialist Party is split between the revolutionary wing and the moderate wing.  Mussolini,  naturally, sided with the revolutionaries and the moderates are thrown out of the Congress.  Afterwards a 29 year old Mussolini is promoted into the Socialist Party’s top leadership (Source).  Back in Mother Russia Lenin, leader of the overall International Socialist movement, writes an article praising Mussolini’s progress in Pravada (Source 4) for expelling those moderates considered too conciliatory to the bourgeoisie.

Dr. Richard Pipes of Harvard describes the events of the Socialist Congress this way:

Exploiting the frustrated radicalism of the rank-and-file, Mussolini succeeded at the Socialist Party’s Congress of 1912 in ousting the moderates from the leadership… He was appointed to the Party’s Executive Committee and entrusted with the editorship of Avanti!Source: Richard Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime, pp 248 – 249

Sources:

1. Paul Johnson, “Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties” p. 962

2. Peter Neville, “Mussolini” p. 213

3. Ivone Kirkpatrick, “Mussolini: A Study in Power” p. 474

4. Vladimir Lenin, “Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenii” Volume XXI, p. 409.