August 23, 2017

1935. Erratic Mussolini Rejects Cabinet Advice

The Isolated Duce
Mussolini, Hitler, Italian Foreign Minister (and Mussolini's son-in-law) Galeazzo Ciano, and others meet at Brenner Pass on October 5, 1940 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise and fall of fascism in Europe.

From The New York Times, September 29, 1935:
He Tends More to Isolation and Depends Largely on His Own Judgments

ROME, Sept. 27 — Premier Benito Mussolini has never been a believer in "brain trusts" for running the affairs of his government. He believes that he himself supplies all the brains required.

He goes on the principle that things are never so well done as when he does them personally, and his unlimited confidence in himself is proven by the fact that he heads seven of the fourteen Ministries of which the Italian Government is composed. He has many trusted lieutenants but they can hardly be considered advisers, as their functions are virtually limited to carrying out the orders he gives them.

The lack of any advisers in the true sense of the word is shown by the speed with which Premier Mussolini changes his principal collaborators. He evidently is jealous of his position as undisputed dictator of Italy and delights in shifting his men about in an inscrutable, and often apparently erratic, manner. None of his Ministers ever feels sure of his post, for even the best of them knows he may be removed at any minute.

This system has the advantage that every one who works for Premier Mussolini gives his very best to please him. It has the drawback that it accentuates the isolation into which Mussolini has been retiring more and more since he became head of the government thirteen years ago.

The more prominent of his collaborators are those who last the shortest time. Dino Grandi, who for some years was in charge of Italian foreign policy, first as Under-Secretary and then as Minister of Foreign Affairs and was at one time considered the most promising among the rising young men of fascism, is now Ambassador to London and completely out of the political swim.

Balbo Also Removed

General Italo Balbo, whose exploits in the air once raised him to the dizzy heights of the principal Italian hero, is now Governor of Libya and as far removed as is Mr. Grandi from the centre of political activities. These examples could be duplicated almost endlessly.

Various people at different times have been reputed to exercise great influence over Mussolini. The fact that they are now almost all forgotten proves that their reputations were unfounded. Mussolini always played a lone hand. He uses men as circumstances demand but is always ready to discard them if they fail in their jobs or as soon as their usefulness is exhausted. Sometimes he consults persons who have specific knowledge of some particular technical question, but the object of these consultations is usually to obtain the data on which to base his own decisions and only very seldom to ask advice.

The only person who may be considered to have had any real influence over Mussolini is Admiral Costanzo Ciano, whose son, Galeazzo, married Mussolini's daughter, Edda, some years ago. He and Mussolini were and still are fast friends and have respect for each other's qualities and judgment. The admiral, however, has retired from active participation in the government and holds the prominent, but mainly decorative, position of President of the Chamber.

Son-in-Law Is a Factor

His place has been taken to some extent by his son Galeazzo, who is now Minister of Propaganda. Before his departure for East Africa as a volunteer airman the younger Ciano was one of the persons closest to Mussolini. But he is still very young, being barely 30 years old, and it cannot yet be said that Mussolini leans on him for guidance.

Mussolini relies on the newspapers and the audiences he daily grants to persons from all walks of life to keep in touch with public opinion. He is a voracious reader, especially of the foreign press, which reflects all shades of opinion more accurately than the strictly controlled Italian press. In it he reads what the world is thinking and saying about Italy and his way of running things.

But more and more as the years go by Mussolini retires into the shell of isolation. His contacts with people outside have grown less frequent, he sees fewer and fewer visitors and he has become much more difficult to see.

As a consequence, his touch with people and things is less intimate and his judgment has perhaps become more liable to error.