(1883-1945 )

A revisionist biography
Uma biografia revisionista




The days of the jackal
John Charmley

By Nicholas Farrell
Weidenfeld, £25, pp.533, ISBN:0297819658

Nicholas Farrell has produced a fascinating biography of Mussolini which is bound to be controversial; not, one suspects, that that will worry him. The central thesis can be baldly stated: ‘the truth is that a critical mass of people in Italy did actively support fascism and an even larger proportion, a clear majority, did actively support Mussolini’. This cuts across the postwar Italian consensus which maintains precisely the opposite position. Farrell has no time for the argument (also prevalent in Germany) that all the blame for the misdeeds of fascism can be placed firmly on the shoulders of the dead leader; in his eyes the Italians were complicit in what happened: Mussolini and fascism were not inherently ‘evil’, although they ‘did do evil’. Farrell locates fascism, like its author, Mussolini, firmly on the Left as an unusually pathological variety of socialism; it was, he argues, the ‘third way between capitalism and communism’. Mussolini, who was fond of inventing ‘battles’ (for wheat, the lira and for babies), would have welcomed this ‘battle for Mussolini’.

It is inevitable that Farrell will have the adjective ‘revisionist’ attached to his name, although surely the alternative to ‘revisionist’ history is plagiarism? Farrell brings two sorts of new perspective to this mammoth but highly readable work: in the first place he lives in Predappio, the Romagna village where Mussolini was born and is buried; in the second place he brings a sceptical intelligence informed by the debates of the post-communist era about the very nature of democratic legitimacy. This makes for a highly combustible mixture.


He recovers the ‘respectable’ Mussolini who, for nearly 20 years, was a ‘statesman’ respected by men as diverse as Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw; this was the man who seemed to have invented a third way between the excesses of Leninism/ Stalinism and unbridled capitalism; the man who modernised the Italian state; the man who made Italy the Great Power its founders had dreamed of; this Mussolini was no mere vulgar buffoon — although Farrell does not spare us accounts of his early life that make it clear that he had plenty of both in his make-up.

Like so many of his fellow revolutionaries (Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler), Mussolini’s early life lacked direction and dedication; a shiftless, indeed shifty, character, he betrayed anyone who trusted him, and only discovered in early manhood that such behaviour could be excused, and even praised, as a revolutionary rejection of the values of the bourgeoisie. La vita comoda, the bourgeois life-style, summed up everything that Mussolini despised, and Farrell is particularly good on the way in which fascism owed many of its characteristics to Il Duce: its deliberate irrationality; its love of the new and the shocking; its taste for grandiose spectacle; its dislike of both the masses and the aristocracy; and above all its restless pursuit of prestige. It was this last which led it, and its creator, to nemesis.

Mussolini’s fatal mistake was to link up with Hitler, a development Farrell blames squarely on the British, and especially on Anthony Eden. He overstates his case in this instance. At one level it is correct to say that in occupying Abyssinia Mussolini was only doing what the British and the French had done ‘recently’, but what had been acceptable in the first decades of the last century was no longer so by the 1930s. There was, as Farrell cogently argues, a good Realpolitik case for the Hoare-Laval pact which would have given Mussolini most of what he wanted; but the 1930s was not a decade for such diplomatic practice by the democracies. At this level, Mussolini had only himself to blame for an enterprise that cost 20 per cent of the Italian state’s budget and brought nothing positive. But Farrell is right to see the breakdown of the Anglo-French-Italian entente as the beginning of the process that dragged Mussolini to his eventual fate at the hands of communist partisans.

The picture that emerges of Mussolini as ‘phallus-in-chief’ and international statesman is one that may have more contemporary resonance, but Farrell’s greatest contribution is to ground him in his context as a very Italian phenomenon. Although a long book, this is readable enough to have been even longer; a final chapter summing up Farrell’s thoughts about the fate of the ‘third way’ and Mussolini’s ideas would have made fascinating reading. The questions Mussolini was trying to answer are, Farrell makes clear, as pertinent now as they were then.

John Charmley is Professor of Modern History at the University of East Anglia.


THE SPECTATOR -- 21-6-2003

Don’t mention that Mussolini saved Jews: it is Politically Inconvenient to do so
Frank Johnson

Weidenfeld and Nicolson is about to publish a big biography of Mussolini by my friend Nicholas Farrell, which contains the following passage: ‘Just as none of the victorious powers went to war with Germany to save the Jews neither did Mussolini go to war with them to exterminate the Jews. Indeed, once the Holocaust was under way he and his fascists refused to deport Jews to the Nazi death camps thus saving thousands of Jewish lives — far more than Oskar Schindler.’

Mussolini saved more Jews than Schindler! For once, the word ‘controversial’, so often used to describe any old bit of routine leftism, is justified. That Mussolini saved Jews has long been known, especially to non-left-wing Italians, though that includes few Italian intellectuals. But not known widely; it is not something which Anglo-Saxons emphasise about Mussolini. Was not Mussolini Hitler’s ally? How could he have saved Jews?

A few years ago the Guardian journalist Paul Webster discussed it in his book on Pétain and the Jews — Pétain’s Crime — to compare Pétain’s attitude to the Jews unfavourably with Mussolini’s. But the passage in Mr Webster’s book aroused no wider interest in Britain, his subject being Pétain rather than Mussolini.

A few academics writing in English have mentioned the matter, but in a rather cool way. By using the startling comparison with Schindler, Mr Farrell is the first writer in English to give it the weight that it deserves — to dramatise it. This could be because he is a journalist rather than an academic. Some historians, like Tacitus, Gibbon, Macaulay and A.J.P. Taylor have had an eye for a story; but not the average academic historian. Unless, in many cases, it is an old left-wing story that has been told over and over again. Potential readers should be wary of academics reviewing Mr Farrell’s book.   

That a right-wing dictator could save Jews is the sort of information that has not been allowed to enter the Anglo-Saxon consciousness because it is politically inconvenient. Politically Convenient historiography does not take account of shades of white and black. No grey is allowed. Once it is agreed that someone was a right-winger, anything good that he does is either not emphasised or it is suppressed. It is Politically Inconvenient that Mussolini saved Jews.

During the war, many Jews from various parts of Europe saved themselves by reaching Franco’s Spain. Some made their way to Argentina, including Perón’s Argentina. The recently deceased Lord Bauer — Peter Bauer, the dissident free-marketeer among LSE economists, himself born a Hungarian Jew — delighted in telling me of a Hungarian Jew who made his way through Franco’s Spain to Cuba (another right-wing dictatorship), later to help invent the contraceptive pill.

We often hear about Nazis to whom Argentina gave refuge, but not Jews. It is Politically Inconvenient. None of this is to deny that Mussolini, Franco and Perón were also bad. But ancient historians had no difficulty in grasping that bad rulers could also do good. To the ancients, many rulers, perhaps most, were both. The ancients wisely saw this as the ruler’s perennial condition; tragedy even. By comparison, modern historians have declined into infantilism.

We might, however, be witnessing the faint stirrings of a return to the ancients. Mr Farrell’s book is one such stirring. In France recently I bought a copy of a new book on the strength of its title — Historiquement Correct (Perrin), by Jean Sévillia, an editor of Figaro magazine. It is a bracing look at French education’s and French politicians’ leftish way with history.

The book is a compendium of Politically Inconvenient information. M. Sévillia has the Spanish Inquisition as condemning relatively few to burning at the auto-da-fé. He has many Jews as being convinced of Dreyfus’s guilt, and speculates that had he not been the victim, Dreyfus himself — being unpleasant and an extreme nationalist — would have been anti-Dreyfusard, which may not be the point but is amusing. He has the Algerian nationalists committing many more, and many worse, atrocities than the French colonial army during the Algerian war. He has de Gaulle causing far more deaths by giving Algeria independence precipitately; the triumphant nationalists massacring many relatively humble Algerians who had worked for the colonial government He has the Spanish conquerors ending far more torture and murder among the natives of Mexico and Peru than they inflicted on them. 

Most mischievously, M. Sévillia has Pétain presiding over the saving of Jews, too. Like Mussolini, he passed anti-Semitic laws; but in the German shadow. Many French Jews were deported to their deaths. But many were saved. Pétain and his regime have long been held responsible for those who perished. M. Sévillia now raises a taboo subject: should not Pétain and his regime be held responsible for those who were saved? ‘Paradoxically,’ he writes, ‘neither Pétain, who made no speech accusing the Jews, nor Laval, was especially anti-Semitic.’

He adds that ‘Vichyite anti-Semitism contains all kinds of exceptions.’ During the notorious French police round-up of Parisian Jews in 1942, he says, certain policemen allowed so many Jews to escape that fewer than a half of those in Paris were seized. In Nancy, the police issued so many false papers that only 32 of the city’s 350 Jews were arrested.

M. Sévillia has a quotation from the French historian of the Occupation, Henri Amouroux — whom the French Left disapproves of — which could serve as the motto for the new school of Politically Inconvenient history for which some of us hope: ‘Il existe une relativité dans le mal.’

On the subject of France, after writing my last piece here, I was mortified to discover, too late, that I had spelt de Gaulle’s adversary Giraud as ‘Guiraud’, despite an almost lifelong interest in the subject. I can only plead as shoplifters do on these occasions: I don’t know what came over me.

This confession is voluntary. I awaited the mocking readers’ letters. None came. This may say something about this magazine’s readers or about how many of them read me. Eventually, a card arrived from a French friend in Paris; a gentle correction. 

But it serves Giraud right. When Roosevelt forced de Gaulle to have a meeting with his rival, Giraud made a point of addressing the general as Gaulle. But it is also said that de Gaulle greeted Edward Heath — during the first abortive Common Market negotiations — with: ‘Bonjour, M. Maudling.’




29 June 2003 13:27

A chip off the old block?

What do Fascism's belligerent founding father and our own democratically elected Prime Minister have in common? A great deal more than you might imagine, according to Nicholas Farrell, the author of a major new biography of Benito Mussolini

25 June 2003

Benito Mussolini was born and is buried in the Apennine village of Predappio, between Bologna and Florence. It is here, in this Fascist Bethlehem, where I have spent the past five years working on my biography of the dictator.

Every now and again, as I wander about town, my mind drifts from Mussolini and Fascism, the subject in hand, to another matter: Tony Blair and New Labour. Odd, but I cannot help noticing that Blair and Mussolini have rather a lot in common. I am not saying that Blair has consciously copied Mussolini. But Blair, probably without even realising it, does seem to have imbibed quite a few things from the Duce.

For a start, Blair extols the virtues of the Third Way, which was the phrase coined by the Fascists, no less, to describe their alternative to capitalism and communism. Blair began as a left-wing pacifist and became a right-wing warmonger. He is dictatorial and ignores Parliament if he can and he is a master of propaganda (spin). He is also a bit of a musician - always a dangerous sign in a politician - and plays the electric guitar. So was Mussolini. He played the violin.

Before Mussolini, the region where I live - the Red Romagna - was left-wing and it reverted to type after its most famous son had gone. Left-wing politics is in the blood around here and it did not take my left-wing Italian friends long to figure Blair out. "Blair is not one of us. He is our enemy," they say.

On the face of it, though, Blair and Mussolini would appear to have little in common: Mussolini was a serial womaniser who fought duels. He was also a serious intellectual and historian, even though he was from a poor family and did not go to university. Blair, on the other hand, is a pious, church-going family man who, though middle-class and Oxford-educated, does not know his history. Blair is called Tony - which hardly matches up to Benito as a name for a dictator.

Let the facts speak for themselves. Both men started out as left-wingers but to get power both moved right. Then, to keep power, they both moved righter still. Both marketed themselves as of the left. But their product was not of the left. It was something else.

People, especially people on the left, tend to forget - presumably because it is inconvenient to remember - that Mussolini was a revolutionary socialist before he was anything else. They forget, too, that he founded Fascism not as a right-wing dictatorship but as a left-wing revolutionary movement that provided an alternative first to socialism then to communism.

When, during the second Bill Clinton presidency, Blair and Clinton started holding summits on the Third Way, they really were verging on the truly Fascist. The Fascist Third Way between capitalism and communism aimed to abolish class war and replace it with class collaboration. This meant the promotion of the productive elements in society from whatever class and the abolition of the parasitical elements from whatever class.

The means by which the Fascists attempted to impose their Third Way was the corporate state. This did not involve the nationalisation of the workplace as in Marxist-inspired solutions, but its incorporation. Shareholders, whether in the form of the state or private individuals, still owned the means of production. Both workers and bosses, however, were members of the corporations that ran enterprises, with the state acting as referee if the need arose.

The Fascist corporate state was never really tried. But one finds traces of its corporatist ideas in Blair's Government. The Prime Minister has quickly but quietly dropped the phrase "Third Way" from the vocabulary. But he talks, with mounting frenzy, of "public-private partnerships".

I assume that Clinton and Blair were unaware of the Fascist origins of their much-talked-about crusade for a Third Way. Otherwise, surely they would have run a mile before associating themselves with such a phrase. But the similarities between Blair and Mussolini do not just end there.

Take their respective attitudes to war. Like Blair, who was a member of CND, Mussolini started out as a pacifist and led anti-war demonstrations. He even went to jail for six months after an anti-war demonstration in 1911 in which he was responsible for criminal damage to trains and railway lines at Forli, the provincial capital near his birthplace.

But it was war (the issue being whether or not Italy should enter the First World War) that caused Mussolini to abandon the Socialist Party. The socialists wanted no truck with what they saw as a bourgeois war. Mussolini, on the other hand, like Lenin, realised its revolutionary potential.

His refusal to toe the party line led to his expulsion from the Socialist Party in 1914. "You cannot get rid of me, because I am, and always will be, a socialist. You hate me because you still love me," Mussolini shout- ed above the din at the Milan meeting where his fate was decided.

Events were to prove Mussolini right. The Socialist Party refused to change its policy and was consigned to the political wilderness. Mussolini got power and then went on to make a name for himself as warmonger in not such a totally different way from Blair.

For like Mussolini, Blair has ended up declaring aggressive and legally dubious wars amid much protest from grassroots members of his own party. Neither his war in Kosovo nor that in Iraq had a UN mandate. In war, like Mussolini, Blair has played second fiddle to a greater force; in Mussolini's case Hitler, in Blair's case, first Clinton, and now George Bush.

But it is in the field of propaganda - or spin, as it is known these days - that the similarities between Mussolini and Blair are perhaps most apparent. Mussolini was a brilliant journalist and orator. It might be said that he was both the first tabloid newspaper editor and the first spin doctor. His aim was to instill faith in Fascism among Italians. For, as he was so fond of saying, Fascism was "a religious conception of life" and "faith moves mountains".

This idea of the political importance of myth creation came from an important late 19th-century work, La Psychologie des Foules (The Psychology of the Crowd), by the French socialist Gustave Le Bon. The crowd, argued Le Bon, was moved not by reason but by emotion. Blair, too, has created a myth - New Labour - that bore Labour to power and his speeches, especially at times of crisis, reflect the Mussolini creed, appealing more to emotion than reason. "If I believe this, you must believe it," he says in a trembling voice, his face full of anguish.

A phrase Mussolini often used to describe the Italian parliament was that it was "invincibly nauseous". Fascism transformed political participation from an isolated act involving the ballot box into a daily act of religious faith. Blair has not - heavens, no - abolished democracy as Mussolini did, but democracy has diminished under Blair. The Opposition languishes in torpid impotence. The Prime Minister appears increasingly to resemble some whacky kind of cult leader. He avoids debate in Parliament if he can. He talks to the people direct, via television, as Mussolini did via the piazza. Mussolini was famous for his balcony speeches - his "dialogues with the crowd". A modern Mussolini would not need to do anything so obvious as to tackle democracy head on. He could just side-step it with spin.

Mussolini's attitude towards the people at times of war bears more than a passing resemblance to Blair's decision to ride roughshod over the clear majority view that was opposed to war against Iraq. Mussolini wrote in a preface to an edition of Machiavelli's The Prince that popular sovereignty, even in a democracy, was "a cardboard crown". "You see," wrote Mussolini, "the sovereignty graciously extended to the people is snatched back from them at times when its need is realised. It is left in their hands only when it is innocuous or it is felt to be so, namely in times of normal administration... Can you imagine a war being declared by referendum?"

British journalists based in Italy are desperate to portray Berlusconi, the media magnate who became Italian Prime Minister, as a modern-day Fascist. They do this because that is the fashionable thing to do. As a result, they criticise Blair "the socialist" for cosying up to Berlusconi "the Fascist". But the truth is that Blair is closer to Fascism than Berlusconi. Berlusconi is a mild Thatcherite. He may own much of the media, but he does not control it. You just have to watch Italian television to see that. It is incredibly biased in favour of the left.

Berlusconi does not have half the power that Blair has. His majority is much smaller and he relies on coalition partners to sustain his majority.

Distinctions such as "right" and "left" are tricky, of course, because they have a strange tendency to meet up at either extreme. Far right, for example, often equals far left. So instead of dealing with a line, one finds oneself dealing with a circle.

Indeed, despite all the uncanny similarities between the two leaders, there are, of course many differences, not the least of which is that Blair is in many ways more right-wing. Mussolini, for example, founded Italy's welfare state. Presumably, most people would agree that such a move was fairly left-wing. Blair, on the other hand, is doing his best not just to hack away at the welfare state but also at workplace rights traditionally regarded by the left as sacred. Clause Four - the Labour Party's commitment to common ownership of the means of production - went years ago and Blair has forged an axis with the European Union's two Thatcherite leaders, José Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi, to make the labour market in Europe more flexible - making it, for example, easier to sack people.

While Blair has doggedly pursued Daily Mail-reading Sierra Man, Mussolini despised the middle classes above all (like all left-wingers, he called them the bourgeoisie) even more than communists, whom he called "state capitalists", because his view was that the middle classes were riddled with parasites. They lived, Mussolini sneered, "la vita comoda", the comfortable life.

And unlike Mussolini, Tony Blair has not made the trains run on time.

Nicholas Farrell's 'Mussolini: A new life' is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (£25)


Mussolini was a cuckold, daughter says

Broadcast of deathbed interview taped in 1995 reveals that the wife of Italy's fascist dictator had a secret lover

Rory Carroll in Rome

Saturday September 1, 2001

He lost an empire and a world war, but until yesterday Italy never suspected that Benito Mussolini's humiliations extended to the matrimonial bed. To widespread astonishment it was revealed that Rachele Mussolini, regarded as a frumpy but loyal wife in the classic Italian mould, cheated on Il Duce.

She took a lover in 1923 while her husband was in Rome building the fascist regime on the strength of his image as a virile superman.

Her consort was the cousin of a station master near Forli in the Emilia Romagna region, where the Mussolini family had a country home. The affair lasted several years.

Benito and Rachele's daughter, Edda, revealed it in an interview taped shortly before her death in April 1995. It will be broadcast for the first time on Monday, and excerpts were leaked yesterday to several Italian newspapers.

Edda said that by the age of 15 she knew of her father's numerous flings, but she was furious at discovering her mother's infidelity. "I discovered a secret. There was always a man hanging around and he annoyed me. Papa could do what he wanted, about this there was no discussion, but not mamma. She could not have a lover!"

The relationship started in Milan and continued after the family moved to the villa in Emilia Romagna. "There things became more complicated because people could see a lot more. He was a handsome man," Edda said.

She overheard her mother telling the dictator that she had found solace from his affairs. "You have many women. There is a person who loves me a lot, a beautiful companion," Rachele told him. Mussolini, who juggled private lovers in addition to his public mistress, Clara Petacci, was amazed but did not forbid the affair.

Cast aside

Rachele ended it after Edda demanded to be sent to boarding school in protest. "It finished. Exactly because I said 'enough'. I could not stand this situation, I could not stand this man," she said.

After being cast aside, the lover disappeared and his identity remains unknown. Headlines in La Stampa and La Repubblica yesterday proclaimed Rachele's betrayal. Historians admitted that they knew nothing of the affair.

History books portray Rachele, who married in 1910, as a long-suffering spouse who gave birth to five children and provided Mussolini with a wholesome family image. His personality cult was vital during his march on Rome in 1922 and the establishment of a totalitarian regime. Family photos were used to project a fascist ideal of domestic life.

In the interview, Edda, 85, said that years later she was able to understand her mother's behaviour. "She had reason."

She said her father was the great love of her life, even though he did not save her husband, Count Ciano, from a firing squad for betraying the fascist state.

She also revealed that the dictator exploded in 1929 when she said she wanted to marry a Jew. "The Jews are my worst enemies," he told her.

Mussolini was executed with Petacci in April 1945 near Lake Como. The political descendants of his blackshirts have formed a post-fascist party, the National Alliance, and form part of the centre-right government.

The interview, part of a history documentary, will be broadcast on Rai 3.



Mussolini: A New Life
Nicholas Farrell
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £25, 533 pp


Much misunderstood Mussolini
(Filed: 02/07/2003)

Denis Mack Smith reviews Mussolini by Nicholas Farrell

The life of Benito Mussolini was an unusual mixture of great success and dreadful failure. In youth he was a poor provincial nobody, antisocial and frequently in jail for petty misdemeanours, but by the age of 40 he was the Duce or dictator of fascist Italy and remained such for 20 years.

Eventually it could be said of him that no Italian politician in history has been more powerful and more widely admired. But in the end he became an object of hatred and contempt when his belligerent policy led to Italy being devastated by invading German and Anglo-American armies.

What Nicholas Farrell calls his semi-divine status was shattered months before April 1945, when, after failing to smuggle himself into Switzerland disguised as a German soldier, he was executed by Italian anti-fascist partisans.

The polemical theme of this new and substantial biography is that Mussolini was a great man much misunderstood, not maleficent but, on the contrary, a "very religious person" who was certainly not the cynical opportunist that many Anglo-Saxons presume. He is extolled as a patriot, a shrewd political thinker and tactician, whose objective was not conquest or war but rather "to guarantee peace in Europe". Even his military alliance with Hitler in 1939 is surprisingly explained as proof of his sincere pacific intentions.

The Mussolini of this book was not reactionary, not corrupt, not a tyrant. He won power by consent and not by violence. Moreover he was far too sensible to have been responsible for the assassination of Matteotti or other fascist victims.

Today such a version of history seems naive and eccentric. The idea of Mussolini as a religious man or a serious political thinker is ludicrous. Farrell talks of him as above all a realist and omits most of the evidence that shows him to have been hopelessly unrealistic. Farrell, on his first page, states that "unlike democracy" the fascists "got things done"; whereas critics would say that the reverse was much nearer the truth. Far from being a peacemaker, Mussolini was foolish enough to eulogise war as something quintessentially fascist and desirable.

Farrell also asserts that "fascism's big idea was the corporate state", although elsewhere he has to admit that, apart from creating an extra and vastly expensive bureaucracy, this corporate state was a useless counter-productive illusion with little substance except as propa ganda.

One more puzzle is Farrell's contradictory admission that fascists described themselves as right-wing when their regime "was anything but a right-wing movement", and indeed Mussolini confusingly spoke of socialism and fascism as almost identical. Another enigma is that Mussolini was apparently anti-Jewish but "not anti-Semitic", and also, incredibly, was more anxious than the British to save Italian Jews from persecution.

Foreign policy is another interesting area for divergent opinions. This biography argues that "unlike Hitler, Mussolini did not want to invade his neighbours" and only with the greatest reluctance was persuaded to enter a tentative claim for Tunisia, Corsica, parts of France and Switzerland, most of the Balkans and vast areas in Africa. Unfortunately, so Farrell says, the Ethiopians wilfully obstructed his beneficent idea of peaceful Italian penetration, so forcing him to send half a million Italian soldiers to central Africa - almost bankrupting Italy in the process.

Farrell thinks that the British ought to have appeased Mussolini by the surrender of colonial territory, and it was their culpable refusal to do enough of this that drove Mussolini into the clutches of Hitler.

Italian fascism collapsed because Mussolini, in 1940, joined Nazi Germany in war against France and Britain. Farrell gives the strange excuse that Hitler "dragged Italy into a war it was not ready for". But Mussolini was in fact eager to fight; so much so that he sent most of his best planes to Belgium without even stopping to ask if they had the right equipment to operate across the Channel (they did not).

In October he made a more horrendous mistake by attacking Greece on the assumption that a much smaller country would be an easy victim, and from this quixotic venture his war effort never recovered. Subsequently he is said here to have been unhappy about Hitler's decision to fight against Russia, but none the less sent a quarter of a million poorly armed and inadequately clothed soldiers to sub-zero temperatures at the Russian front; and we are expected to believe that this was in order to "exercise more control over Hitler".

Not a word is said here about his equally foolish determination to anticipate the Germans in a gratuitous declaration of war against the United States. In true fascist style these decisions required no discussion with anyone because he was simultaneously dictator, prime minister, military commander in chief, minister in charge of all three military departments - and his definition of fascism was that decisions should be imposed from above, not discussed with the experts.

A minor criticism is that this book has been carelessly written, with sentences repeated, names misspelt (the king's name written three different ways), and many mistakes in the spelling of Italian words.

Denis Mack Smith's books include 'Mussolini' and 'Modern Italy: A Political History'.


In defence of Il Duce
(Filed: 02/07/2003)

Andrew Roberts reviews Mussolini by Nicholas Farrell

It was only a matter of time before a full-scale revisionist biography praising Benito Mussolini was published in English, and the dictator has certainly found a doughty defender in the former Telegraph journalist Nicholas Farrell. The author, who has lived for the past five years in Il Duce's birthplace of Predappio in the Romagna, which is also where Mussolini "is buried like a minor deity", has clearly inhaled deeply of the local political aura.

The dictator whom Farrell presents in his hard-hitting book, complete with a forest of footnotes and much fascinating original research, is pretty much unrecognisable to those of us who have been brought up on the biographies by the liberal British historians Denis Mack Smith and Jasper Ridley. Farrell argues that Mussolini "remained at heart a Socialist to his dying day". It was what gave him his anti-Communist fervour, something that led him to be described by Pope Pius XI as "sent by Providence", by Churchill as "the greatest law-giver among living men", and by President Roosevelt as his "only potential ally in his effort to safeguard world peace".

The problem with revisionist accounts is that they tend to overcompensate. When Mussolini made the gross strategic error of declaring war against the Allies in June 1940, for example, Farrell writes that, although 300,000 Italian soldiers and 150,000 civilians died as a result, "it might well have been a brilliant decision". The truly brilliant decision would have been to sit out the war like his fellow southern Mediterranean fascist dictator General Franco.

Also controversial will be Farrell's assertion that Mussolini "saved more Jews than Oscar Schindler". Quite apart from the fact that Schindler was not a head of state and thus in no position to save as many as Mussolini, neither did Schindler pass the anti-Semitic laws that Mussolini did in November 1938. Farrell's explanation that "Mussolini's anti-Semitism was not biological racism but spiritual racism" does not sit well with his other statement that "although not anti-Semitic, Mussolini became increasingly anti-Jewish", and either would have looked pretty sophistic to Jewish doctors and lawyers who lost their professions due to his laws. The fact that Mussolini did not collude in the Holocaust hardly makes him a Righteous Gentile.

Where Farrell is on far stronger ground is in his argument that Mussolini "ruled with the consent of the Italian people" throughout the 1930s and that he held power "by and large bloodlessly". At almost any period between 1923 and 1941, I suspect that Mussolini would have won any election by a landslide. By the standards of the dictatorships, Mussolini's was by far the least brutal. There was repression of the Communists in the trade unions, but not the large-scale torture and genocide of political opponents to be found elsewhere in Europe. He needs to be judged in the context of the insurrectionary Italian post-Great War experience, rather than by the peaceful liberal standards of British democracy.

"He was a brilliant journalist," writes Farrell of his hero, adding, "you only have to read an article by him to realise that he was not a buffoon". Perhaps not, but he acted like one in 1940 by falling in with Hitler's war plans and assuming the war was as good as over. Equally breathless remarks of Farrell's, such as, "In addition to being a shrewd political thinker, Mussolini was a master political tactician", need to be set against that critical blunder.

When Farrell defends Mussolini on the grounds that "he and Fascism… got things done", one can almost visualise him taking down the times of the trains with a stopwatch and notepad. Not even Mussolini's worst enemies deny that he radically altered the Italian economy, and in many ways made it far more efficient. The question of whether Italians had to pay too much in terms of loss of liberty has been answered by Farrell in a passionate and thought-provoking way. Nor will the Left be happy with his (true) statement that: "The Italian partisan resistance was a largely irrelevant factor in the liberation of Italy."

Farrell concludes his book with the crowd in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan laughing at and urinating on the corpses of Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, her brother and 15 others, before seven bodies were hung upside down from the steel girders of the petrol station there. It was remarked with surprise by the women present, who were joking and dancing around this macabre scene, that Clara Petacci wore no knickers and that her stockings were unladdered. Farrell is predictably censorious that Mussolini was executed without due process of law, which is frankly naïve, but he does explain that Petacci was not given time to find her knickers before she was taken away and machine-gunned.

By the end of this highly spirited, opinionated and rather remarkable book, one does not grieve for Mussolini, however much the author might wish us to, but one does feel sorry for poor Clara and very surprised that any Italian – even a Communist partisan – should have chosen to murder an attractive and entirely apolitical woman.

 Andrew Roberts's `Hitler and Churchill' is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson


July 06, 2003

Review: History: Mussolini by Nicholas Farrell

Excuses, excuses

by Nicholas Farrell

Weidenfeld £25 pp533

In 1919, Benito Mussolini assembled a political ragbag of followers in Milan and launched the movement that was to become, two years later, the National Fascist party. The party took its name from the classical Roman symbol of authority — an axe bound in rods, or fasces. Part buffoon, part demagogue, Mussolini dreamt of a second Roman empire for Italy, and dominion over the Mediterranean.

Occasionally he liked to wear a richly tasselled fez and would pose for the cameras, thrusting his chin out pugnaciously. He introduced the stiff-armed Roman salute after the handshake was considered fey and unhygienic. As his regime strengthened, the high priests of fascism began to hail their leader as “divine Caesar”, and even called for an embargo on all foreign locutions and non-Latin terms. Meanwhile, the Italian army adopted the passo romano, the Latin goose step copied from Hitler. However, behind the bombast, Italian fascism relied on bludgeons and intimidation.

During the Nazi occupation of Italy, Mussolini’s cosh gangs helped deport more than 6,800 native Jews. The dictator made no attempt to justify this outrage; Hitler, at least, was lethally committed to his ideology. In this baggy new biography Nicholas Farrell blames England for forcing Mussolini into his deadly alliance with the Führer. For 13 years, Mussolini had aligned his foreign policy with Britain’s. He was feted in most English newspapers, Farrell points out, and was on good terms with George V. But in 1935, after Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, Britain imposed unexpectedly harsh sanctions on Italy. Mussolini was pushed further into Hitler’s arms for support, and any hope of a united front against German aggression was destroyed. For all his Machiavellian adroitness, the Duce might have been a useful ally to Britain, argues Farrell. But, owing to British cabinet intransigence, Mussolini hitched his carnival chariot to the Führer’s funeral hearse, and a last chance for peace in Europe was lost.

Farrell’s argument is not new. However, he differs from most recent biographers of Mussolini in his admiration for the dictator. In his view, the Duce was a decent man led astray by Hitler. His “charisma” and “prestige” were “phenomenal”. Whether this revisionism is the song and dance of a minority, or something more widespread and foolish, is difficult to say. In Italy there have long been signs of a fascist revival. Mussolini’s birthplace of Predappio (where Farrell now lives) is awash with fascist trinkets, pseudo-Roman gewgaws and other Blackshirt memorabilia. Italian newspapers have begun to speak of the fascist past as romantic adventure and not the catastrophic blunder it was.

Although Farrell has clearly read widely into the cult of ducismo, he often writes crudely of his subject. Mussolini’s mistress, we are told, had a “big sex drive” (so did Mussolini: apparently he squeezed a woman’s breasts as if they were “rubber automobile horns”). The clichés cling like grime to Farrell’s prose. Mussolini was a “rebel from the word go”. He “licks his wounds”, “vents his spleen” and “grasps the nettle”. Much of what Farrell has to say is anyway questionable. The fascists were “not racist”, he maintains. Yet in conquered Abyssinia laws were introduced to separate whites from blacks. From this racialism in Africa, it was a short step to advocating racial supremacy at home. In the summer of 1938, Mussolini issued his murderous legislation against Jews. Farrell claims that Mussolini and his cohorts “refused to deport Jews”, but this is debatable. On December 1,

1943, Italy’s puppet fascist state under Hitler decreed that all Jews, “no matter their nationality”, were to be arrested and their properties sequestered. With this decree Mussolini had sanctioned the Final Solution in Italy; Jews were to be placed in “specially fitted-out” camps. From then on, it was not merely dangerous but fatal for Jews to live openly in Italy. While Mussolini did not actually order the deportation of Jews, neither did he obstruct the German officials who co-ordinated it.

Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that Nazi Germany ever demanded an anti-semitic campaign as the price of friendship with Italy. Mussolini alone must take much of the blame for sending his fellow countrymen to the Nazi death camps. Even if Mussolini was the misunderstood political genius of Farrell’s apology, there is still something wrong with a man who (in Ernest Hemingway’s description) “wears white spats with a black shirt”. Lord preserve us from ill-dressed fanatics.


The high priest of fascism

Tobias Jones is deeply suspicious of Nicholas Farrell's attempt to rehabilitate Mussolini

Saturday July 19, 2003
The Guardian

Mussolini: A New Life
by Nicholas Farrell
533pp, Weidenfeld, £25

Mussolini is clearly a mesmerising subject for biographers. There are so many biographies of him that he has become a noir publishing niche. In Italian there are more than 100 biographies and monographs; in English, there are dozens - most famously Denis Mack Smith's portrait of a lecherous, knife-wielding thug; and most recently (only last year) RJB Bosworth's brilliant and scholarly portrayal of an intelligent, devious innovator. So it's hard to know quite why we need yet another doorstop. The reason becomes clear in the first few pages. Farrell is trying to swing the pendulum a long, long way in the opposite direction. This "new life" is an attempt not at revisionism, but at restoration.

Benito Mussolini

For the past five years, Farrell has lived in Predappio, a town he calls "the fascist Bethlehem". It's where Mussolini was born and, years after his death, eventually buried. It's an eerie place: full of skinhead pilgrims decorated with swastikas. The town's entire industry relies on selling memorabilia and keeping the fascist flame burning. As a base for a biographer it's not exactly neutral and neither, therefore, is the resultant book. Its basic thesis is that Mussolini deserves his place in the pantheon of great men and that fascism wasn't so bad after all.

The strange thing is that while Farrell clearly thinks he's saying terribly daring, original things, he's actually repeating what, in the historiography, is a very standard line. Renzo de Felice's monumental biography of Il Duce said it all years ago, and one constantly gets the impression that Farrell's book is a bit of a cut-and-paste job. When not leaning very heavily on preceding, secondary sources, the primary propaganda is used. Take, for example, the following paragraph, which captures all the muddled methodology and logical short-circuits: "The consent Italians had for the fascist religion sprang from faith and reason. But it was faith which enabled it to endure and which made unnecessary the violent coercion of Italians by fascism. There was no Leninist or Stalinist terror in fascist Italy. There was no need. Fascism, said the dottrina del fascismo , had 'created a faith' which had 'conquered souls', and faith, as Mussolini was fond of saying, unlike reason, moves mountains."

Italians believed in the religion, says Farrell, because the doctrine of fascism said they did; and that, along with a quotation from Il Duce, is good enough for him. Time and again the author's arguments are backed up not by statistical or historical analysis, but by uncritical quotation from the propaganda of the era. The photo captions are so sycophantic that it's hard to believe they aren't meant ironically: "Mussolini personally battles for wheat"; shrapnel wounds are - in the words of his mistress - "the arrows of St Sebastian", and similar guff.

One constantly gets the impression that the author is desperate to escape the biographical straitjacket to take pot-shots at the politically correct. "The left has had a cultural hegemony in Italy throughout the postwar period" is a typical sentence, left dangling without qualification, definition or justification. Or else: "Most people often deride fascist architecture as grotesque ... but it is much more impressive than so much else that has gone on architecturally in the 20th century."

Then there's the idea that Mussolini is, really, rather similar to Tony Blair: "the fascist idea of the Third Way lives on and is championed by the standard-bearers of the modern left such as New Labour". It might be a vaguely interesting comparison were it developed, but again it's left at that because Farrell has to hurry back to the "history". That, in fact, is the central problem of the book: it's insufficiently rigorous to be academic; insuffiently well-argued or original to be a contemporary polemic.

Then there's the problem of the writing. Here is Farrell's verdict on the League of Nations, a sentence that suffers a double whammy of cliché: "when the chips were down it proved to be all mouth and no trousers". In every chapter there's the same boozy, bar-room prose. The most iconic crime of Italy's 20th century, the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, outspoken socialist critic of Mussolini, is described as "a cock-up".

And it's here that one arrives at the really unpalatable. Every time Farrell describes fascist murders he's at pains to point out Mussolini's extraneousness. "To the fury of Mussolini," he says, "15 partisans had been executed by a fascist firing squad". One begins to feel that Farrell has swallowed the fascist rhetoric hook, line and sinker. It's true that, during the Repubblica di Salò Mussolini objected to the ferocity of Nazi reprisals against partisans; but to absolve Mussolini of any responsibility for such events is absurd. It was Mussolini, more than any other politician in Europe, who opened a political pandora's box: street violence, political murders, demagoguery in place of democracy. To suggest that Mussolini was subsequently "furious" at violence is to mistake opportunistic posturing for moral indignation. By this point, one begins to wonder how Farrell will square his hagiography with the Holocaust. The sophistry deployed is that Mussolini's anti-semitism wasn't biological but spiritual racism. "It was the Jewish psyche or spirit ... that he wanted to stamp out, not the Jews". That's all right then.

There's a fascinating book to be written not on Mussolini's life (for which there exist infinitely better biographies), but on what happened to Italian fascism after his death. Mussolini once declared: "I did not create fascism: I extracted it from the subconscious of the Italians." One wouldn't have to endorse the line to notice an interesting implication: that Mussolini simply gave a name and form to something already extant in the Italian psyche; and, even after the war, the movement - perhaps under other names and uniforms - lived on.

In Italy there is a collection of books that analyse the enduring appeal of fascism to Italians. The historiography has become particularly interesting since the arrival of a government which isn't, obviously, fascist, but which is definitely - in a label that would make sense only in Italy - anti-anti-fascist. Right-wing historians are now openly de-demonising fascism and debunking half a century of "red" mythology. In the process Mussolini is being once again portrayed as an inspirational leader who, until 1935 (Abyssinia) or 1938 (the race laws), could do nothing wrong.

Tobias Jones's The Dark Heart of Italy: Travels Through Space and Time Across Italy is published by Faber.


The final days of Italian premier and dictator Benito Mussolini

By Thomas Simpson. Thomas Simpson is a senior lecturer in Italian at Northwestern University
Published August 15, 2004

Mussolini: The Last 600 Days of Il Duce
By Ray Moseley
Taylor Trade Publishing,
432 pages, $34.95

It would be hard to name a more ignoble history than that of Italy under Benito Mussolini, throughout his 20-year dictatorship and until the end of World War II. There were many heroes, to be sure, and countless moments of bravery, kindness and sacrifice. But they were acts of resistance under a regime in which Mussolini's megalomania cast a shadow of blind hypocrisy and indignity over all public life. The story of his collapse, sucking a magnificent land into a vortex of catastrophe, may provide an exemplary lesson to people today, from Iraq to America, who submit to the arrogance of power and illusions of empire, whether out of moral weakness or opportunism.

Interest in and debate about Mussolini has never really died down, but the recent resurgence of biographies and studies of fascism is notable. Just as in the U.S. the Vietnam War proves to be an ongoing trauma, the figure of Mussolini continues to affect the conscience of contemporary Italy. Current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose huge ego, small stature and ambition to dominate public life inevitably provoke comparison with Il Duce, recently advanced the campaign to rehabilitate Mussolini by claiming that he did no more evil than to send dissidents " `on vacation in internal exile.' " Such sentiments represent the tip of an ideological iceberg that still looms in politics and on the Italian street. The myth that fascism ushered a backward Italy into the modern era can be supported by no end of statistics, but it remains a myth, because it all depended on Mussolini's indisputable genius for instilling grandiose delusions in himself and others.

One of the most pathetic moments in former Tribune foreign correspondent Ray Moseley's new history, "Mussolini: The Last 600 Days of Il Duce," describes an utterly desperate dictator in flight, two days before his capture and murder, still intensely preoccupied with a collection of secret personal files he was convinced were" `of great historical importance.' " Did he believe he might use the information they contained to bargain for his life? Were they letters between himself and Winston Churchill revealing secret negotiations going back many years?

Mussolini's obsession with preserving them has encouraged historians to speculate wildly. But as Moseley reports, evidence suggests there was nothing particularly special in them, and perhaps that is what Mussolini was most fearful of revealing. Everything he did or said he believed to be of great historical value, whether he was beating professional tennis players in rigged matches, showing off his nude torso to fawning photographers, or insisting that his ministers run rather than walk to his giant desk in his vast office. While it is not the lesson Moseley draws, what stands out most in his account of Mussolini's last days is the tyrant's obsession with appearance over substance, his preoccupation with his personal status over the people to whom he professed complete devotion. This is perhaps the most marked parallel between the fascist dictator and Italy's current leader. To reduce it to a platitude, it's always all about them.

Moseley begins his tale with the July 1943 meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, which voted Mussolini out of office, and he closes it not with his murder but with the theft of his remains by neo-fascists in 1946 and the subsequent, gruesomely comic peregrinations of various pieces of his body until well into the 1960s. The man was as grotesque dead as he was alive, and just as difficult to get rid of.

The story Moseley tells is well known but still carries the voyeuristic fascination of a car wreck: Mussolini's incarceration on a mountain redoubt in the Apennines, his helicopter escape immediately after the September armistice in a raid that depended less on audacity than on corrupt guards, and his installation as head of a puppet republic headquartered in an industrialist's villa on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. The Nazi occupation of Italy provokes thousands of Italians, men and women, to take to the hills to begin a guerrilla war against the occupiers. Finally there is the dictator's humiliating capture by partisans while disguised as a German soldier, and his summary execution together with his lover, Clara Petacci, after which their bodies are strung up at a gas station in Milan and vilified by a mob composed mostly of former admirers.

Moseley draws his version of these events largely from published sources, sifting painstakingly through highly partisan accounts to determine the probable facts. From first to last, his protagonist seesaws insanely between fantasies of victory based largely on his faith in a German secret weapon and a cosmic defeatism that always places his own ego at the center of world history. Any hint in his actions of a dawning consciousness of the destruction he has sown is quickly contradicted by another grandiose declaration, a still-more-hapless plan of escape.

Along the way, Moseley devotes a chapter to the fate of Italian Jews under fascism and reprises in another his earlier book about Mussolini's son-in-law and eventual betrayer, Count Galeazzo Ciano. He gives a minute account of the secret negotiations between Nazi military leaders in northern Italy and Allied security services, spearheaded by Allen Dulles of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. He also weighs the many conflicting accounts of who actually pulled the trigger to kill Mussolini and Petacci, and makes a valiant effort to determine what became of the millions of lire in cash, gold and jewelry that were found on fascist leaders in their last days. Moseley decides they were most likely stolen by communist partisans, another ignoble side story that shames the very heroes whose bravery and sacrifice were crucial in driving fascism from Italy and ending the war.

Although the attention to detail can make it hard going at times (we learn, for example, the license plate number of one of the cars Mussolini rode in), Moseley has a crack journalist's nose for the evocative quotation or the vivid fact that encapsulates a larger truth. It is well known that Mussolini ordered Italian wives to turn in their gold wedding rings to the state to raise funds for his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. The term for wedding ring in Italian is la fede, or faith. Moseley tracks down what happened to those rings: Thousands of them were put in a bag and thrown into Lake Como at the last hour by minions of Il Duce anxious to hide evidence of their rape of the country.

Italians committed their lives to Mussolini because instead of the truth he told them glorious lies. Now we know what he did with their trust.


N Z Z  Online

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 21. April 2004, Ressort Feuilleton

Das historische Buch

Die Frau hinter dem «Duce»

Karin Wielands biografische Studie zu Margherita Sarfatti

Caroline Schnyder

Karin Wieland: Die Geliebte des Duce. Das Leben der Margherita Sarfatti und die Erfindung des Faschismus. Hanser-Verlag, München 2004. 376 S., Fr. 44.50.

Margherita Sarfatti, Jüdin aus Venedig, begegnete Benito Mussolini zum ersten Mal 1912 im Salon von Anna Kuliscioff, wo sich die führenden Mailänder Sozialisten trafen. Sie wurde seine Geliebte und begleitete seinen Aufstieg vom Herausgeber der sozialistischen Parteizeitung «Avanti!» zum «Duce». Als Publizistin, Kunstkritikerin und Botschafterin des Faschismus fand Sarfatti weit über Italien hinaus Gehör; 1934 haben sie die Roosevelts im Weissen Haus zum Tee empfangen. Als 1938 der «Grosse Faschistische Rat» antijüdische Gesetze beschloss, flüchtete sie über die Schweiz nach Paris. Ihre Schwester Nella und deren Mann starben auf dem Transport nach Auschwitz, Margherita überlebte die Kriegsjahre in Montevideo und Buenos Aires und kehrte nach dem Krieg nach Italien zurück, wo sie 1961 starb.


Karin Wielands Buch ist das erste im deutschen Sprachraum, das Margherita Sarfatti gewidmet ist. Der Autorin geht es zum einen um ein «spektakuläres Frauenleben», zum andern um die «Erfindung des Faschismus»: Margherita Sarfatti sei die Frau, die den «linkischen, fanatischen» Mussolini in den «charismatischen Duce» verwandelt habe. Dabei begreift Wieland das Leben ihrer Hauptfigur als Spiegel zeitgegebener Bewegungen und Stimmungen, denen sie in ihrer Darstellung nachspürt und die sie dem Leser zu vergegenwärtigen versucht.

So präsentieren sich die Kapitel des Buches wie eine Folge von Zeitgemälden. Hintergrund des ersten Bildes etwa ist Venedig: Margherita - noch heisst sie mit Familiennamen Grassini - sitzt im Garten des Palazzo Bembo und liest. Um diesen Ausschnitt malt die Autorin das jüdische Ghetto, in dem Margherita 1880 geboren und aus dem ihre Familie 1894 an den Canal Grande gezogen ist; den Palazzo Bembo, in den Margheritas Vater Amedeo Grassini den ersten Fahrstuhl in einem venezianischen Privathaus einbauen lässt; die verfallende Pracht Venedigs und die Kultur Europas, die Margheritas Privatlehrer ihr nahe bringen. Italien Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts: geeint, aber enttäuscht, begeistert für den technischen Fortschritt und gelangweilt von der Politik.

In ähnlich atmosphärischen Bildern folgt die Autorin den weiteren Lebensetappen. In Venedig heiratete Margherita 1898 den jüdischen Rechtsanwalt Cesare Sarfatti und zog mit ihm nach Mailand. Dort engagierte sie sich mit ihrem Mann als Sozialistin, wirkte als Förderin der modernen Kunst, insbesondere der Futuristen, und erschrieb sich einen Namen mit Kunstkritiken und Artikeln zur Frauenfrage, die unter anderem in der sozialistischen Parteizeitung «Avanti!» erschienen. 1912 lernte sie Mussolini kennen, eine Affäre bahnte sich an. Als sich Mussolini 1914 für den Kriegseintritt Italiens aussprach und es zwischen ihm und der Sozialistischen Partei zum Bruch kam, schlossen sich die Sarfattis ihm an. 1915 trat Italien in den Krieg ein, Roberto, der älteste Sohn der Sarfattis, fiel 1918 an der Front.

Karin Wieland verbindet diese für die Eltern traumatische Erfahrung mit deren künftigem Engagement für Mussolini und den Faschismus. Die eigentliche Liebes- und Arbeitsbeziehung zwischen Margherita Sarfatti und Mussolini begann erst jetzt. Mit der Lage Italiens nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg, geprägt von Kriegsenttäuschung, Nationalismus, Wirtschaftskrise und dem Wahlsieg der Sozialisten, erklärt Wieland auch den Aufstieg der faschistischen Kampfbünde. Mussolini wusste unzufriedene Frontkämpfer, Künstler und Intellektuelle, Syndikalisten und ehemalige Sozialisten für sich zu gewinnen und 1922 die Macht an sich zu reissen.


Welche Rolle allerdings Margherita Sarfatti in diesen Ereignissen spielte, bleibt in dem Buch ungewiss. Sarfatti hat Mussolini öffentlich unterstützt, und sie hat ihn auch im Geheimen beraten: Die beiden haben offenbar häufig telefoniert und einander geschrieben; Sarfatti habe Mussolini mit Büchern und Gerüchten versorgt. Doch Details wie beispielsweise den Namen der «vielen Sprachen», die Margherita Sarfatti beherrscht haben soll, enthält die Autorin dem Leser vor. Die wiederkehrenden, verdichtenden Kurzporträts geben der «Geliebten des Duce» kein Profil. Daher lassen sich Wielands Urteile - etwa dass Margherita Sarfatti Mussolini zunehmend als ihr Geschöpf betrachtet habe oder dass sie immer herrschsüchtiger geworden sei - im Text nicht nachvollziehen. Die verschiedenen Stimmen - die Quellen wie auch die Deutungen - sind in der Darstellung zudem schwer zu unterscheiden, und so bleibt der Einfluss, den Margherita zweifellos auf Mussolini ausgeübt hat, verschwommen.

Spätestens ab Ende der 1920er Jahre begann Margherita Sarfatti dem «Duce» lästig zu werden. Sie sass bald nicht mehr in Ausstellungsjurys, die von ihr aufgebaute Künstlergruppe Novecento löste sich auf, ihre Kolumnen in Zeitungen wurden gestrichen. Bereits Sarfattis Mussolini-Biografie von 1925 deutet Wieland als verzweifelten Versuch, sich am mächtigsten Mann Italiens festzuklammern und sich mit ihm zu verewigen. Die Passagen zu dieser Biografie, die für Sarfatti wie für Mussolini ein grosser Erfolg war, sowie diejenigen zu Sarfattis Propagandaartikeln aus den dreissiger Jahren sind die stärksten des Buches. Wenn die Autorin hier aus Sarfattis Texten zitiert oder sie referiert, erscheint ihre Hauptfigur wie auch der Faschismus plastischer; deutlich wird, wie Sarfatti die Verbindung zwischen Mussolini und der «Grösse Roms» beschwor und damit den Faschismus mit Mythen zu untermauern half. Sarfatti gelang es, über die Landesgrenzen hinaus ein verklärendes Bild Mussolinis zu verbreiten. So hat sie den Faschismus als «Kommunikationskünstlerin» mitgeprägt. In welchem Ausmass allerdings, bleibt offen.






Der Diktator war heiß wie Espresso

Sex-Protz Mussolini
schlief mit 5000 Frauen


Hatte Sex mit 5000 Frauen: Benito Mussolini (1883–1945)

Er war mit 1,52 Metern nur ein kleiner Mann. Doch in der Liebe war er ganz groß.

Italiens Diktator und Faschistenführer Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) soll ein Sex-Maniac gewesen sein. Jetzt enthüllt eine Biographie des britischen Autors Nicholas Farrell: „In den 23 Jahren seiner Herrschaft hatte er fast jeden Tag Sex – mit über 5000 Frauen.“

Der Schriftsteller wertete Briefe, Tagebücher und Aussagen von ehemaligen Geliebten aus. Seine Unschuld verlor der „Duce“ demnach als 17-Jähriger an einem Sonntag im Bordell. „Als ich reinkam spürte ich, wie mir das Blut ins Gesicht stieg“, notierte Mussolini. „Eine der Frauen nahm mich auf den Schoß, erregte mich mit Küssen und Liebkosungen. Sie war ältlich, überall an ihrem Körper quoll Fett hervor. Es kostete mich aber bloß 50 Centessimi.“

Weiter: „Von da ab traten nackte Frauen in mein Leben. Mit den Augen zog ich alle aus, jedes Mädchen, dem ich begegnete. In Gedanken gelüstete es mich heftig nach ihnen.“

Beim Sex war der Duce von der ganz schnellen Truppe. Farrell: „Die Schäferstündchen dauerten nur Minuten. Ganz selten schaffte es eine bis ins Bett. Meist fand der Sex stehend an der Wand oder auf dem Teppich statt.“

Clara Petacci, die zusammen mit Mussolini erschossene Dauer-Geliebte, beschwerte sich einmal: „Er zieht nicht mal die Reithose aus!“ Eine andere Sexpartnerin: „Hinterher wird man einfach weggeschickt, ohne einen Kaffee, Likör oder wenigsten ein Stück Kuchen.“ Eine seiner Partnerinnen erinnerte sich mit Grausen: „Er riss mir die Kleider vom Leib und quetschte mir die Brüste, als seien sie Gummi-Huphörner bei einem Auto.“

Ein Verführer war der „Duce“. Ein großer Liebhaber, so das Fazit des Autors, war Mussolini jedenfalls nicht.  


 I diari di Clara Petacci, qui