THE TIMES OF LONDON: Historians in Cambridge have uncovered details of a lucrative deal struck between a young Benito Mussolini and MI5 in 1917. For at least a year, the young socialist was paid £100 a week by the UK government — around £6,000 today — to write pro-war propaganda for his newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, one of the slickest media machines the country, and keep Italian troops fighting at the front.
“Mussolini wasn’t exactly house-trained,” said Dr Peter Martland, the Cambridge historian who made the discovery. It was unlikely that the young Il Duce was saving for aid packages to the front. “We know he was a womaniser par excellence,” said Dr Martland. “There’s the potential that a lot of money was spent on that.”
The deal was brokered by MP Sir Samuel Hoare, who would almost two decades later become Foreign Secretary but in the autumn of 1917 was acting as MI5’s man in Italy. The hope was that Mussolini’s newsprint would reach the disgruntled masses of industrialised workers, halt the strikes and overturn pacifism: propaganda might stiffen Italy’s resolve and banish the Bolsheviks. MORE
WIKIPEDIA: In Italy, society was divided over the war: Italian socialists generally opposed the war and supported pacificism, while nationalists militantly supported the war. Long-time nationalists Gabriele D’Annunzio and Luigi Federzoni and an obscure Marxist journalist and new convert to nationalist sentiment, future Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, demanded that Italy join the war. For nationalists, Italy had to maintain its alliance with the Central Empires, in order to obtain colonial territories in expenses of France. For the liberals, the war presented Italy a long-awaited opportunity to use an alliance with the Entente to gain certain Italian-populated and other territories from Austria-Hungary, which had long been part of Italian patriotic aims since unification.
Mussolini used his new newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia and his strong oratorical skills to urge nationalists and patriotic revolutionary leftists to support Italy’s entry into the war to gain back Italian populated territories from Austria-Hungary, by saying “enough of Libya, and on to Trent and Trieste“. Mussolini claimed that it was in the interests of socialists to join the war to tear down the aristocratic Hohenzollern dynasty of Germany which he claimed was the enemy of all European workers. Mussolini and other nationalists warned the Italian government that Italy must join the war or face revolution and called for violence against pacifists and neutralists. MORE
ALSO: After pressure was placed on Italy by Nazi Germany to promote a racist agenda, the Fascist regime moved away from its previous promotion of colonialism based on the spread of Italian culture to a directly racist colonial agenda. The Fascist regime declared that it would promote mass Italian settlements in the colonies that would in the Fascist regime’s terms, “create in the heart of the African continent a powerful and homogeneous nucleus of whites strong enough to draw those populations within our economic orbit and our Roman and Fascist civilization”. Fascist rule in its Italian colonies differed from region to region. Rule in Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI), a colony including Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland, was harsh for the native peoples as Fascist policy sought to destroy native culture. In February 1937, Rodolfo Graziani ordered Italian soldiers to pillage native settlements in Addis Ababa, which resulted in hundreds of Ethiopians being killed and their homes being burned to the ground. After the occupation of Ethiopia, the Fascist regime endorsed racial segregation to reduce the number of mixed offspring in Italian colonies which they claimed would “pollute” the Italian race. Marital and sexual relationships between Italians and Africans in its colonies were made a criminal offense when the Fascist regime implemented decree-law No. 880 of April 19, 1937 which gave sentences of one to five years imprisonment to Italians caught in such relationships. The law did not give any sentences to native Africans, as the Fascist government claimed that only those Italians were to blame for damaging the prestige of their race. Despite racist language used in some propaganda, the Fascist regime accepted recruitment of native Africans who wanted to join Italy’s colonial armed forces and native African colonial recruits were displayed in propaganda. In Italian Libya, Mussolini downplayed racist policies as he attempted to earn the trust of Arab leaders there. Individual freedom, inviolability of home and property, right to join the military or civil administrations, and the right to freely pursue a career or employment were guaranteed to Libyans by December 1934. In famous trip to Libya in 1937, a propaganda event was created when on March 18 Mussolini posed with Arab dignitaries who gave him an honorary “Sword of Islam” (that had actually been made in Florence) which was to symbolize Mussolini as a protector of the Muslim Arab peoples there. In 1939, laws were passed that allowed Muslims to be permitted to join the National Fascist Party and in particular the Muslim Association of the Lictor (Associazione Musulmana del Littorio) for Muslim Libya, and the 1939 reforms allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian army. MORE