Recruited by MI5: the name's Mussolini. Benito
- Documents reveal Italian dictator got start in politics in 1917
- with help of £100 weekly wage from MI5
Tom Kington in Rome
The Guardian, Tuesday 13 October 2009
Benito Mussolini was paid £100 a week by MI5 to keep Italy
- in the first world war. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
- remembers Benito Mussolini as a founder member of the
- original Axis of Evil, the Italian dictator who ruled his country
- with fear and forged a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany.
- But a previously unknown area of Il Duce's CV has come to
- ight: his brief career as a British agent.
Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start
- in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5.
For the British intelligence agency, it must have seemed like a
- good investment. Mussolini, then a 34-year-old journalist, was
- not just willing to ensure Italy continued to fight alongside the
- allies in the first world war by publishing propaganda in his paper.
- He was also willing to send in the boys to "persuade'' peace
- protesters to stay at home.
Mussolini's payments were authorised by Sir Samuel Hoare,
- an MP and MI5's man in Rome, who ran a staff of 100 British
- intelligence officers in Italy at the time.
Cambridge historian Peter Martland, who discovered details
- of the deal struck with the future dictator, said: "Britain's least
- reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary
- Russia's pullout from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100
- a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up
- the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6,000 a week
Hoare, later to become Lord Templewood, mentioned the
- recruitment in memoirs in 1954, but Martland stumbled on
- details of the payments for the first time while scouring
- Hoare's papers.
As well as keeping the presses rolling at Il Popolo d'Italia,
- the newspaper he edited, Mussolini also told Hoare he would
- send Italian army veterans to beat up peace protesters in Milan,
- a dry run for his fascist blackshirt units.
"The last thing Britain wanted were pro-peace strikes bringing
- the factories in Milan to a halt. It was a lot of money to pay a
- man who was a journalist at the time, but compared to the
- £4m Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty
- cash," said Martland.
"I have no evidence to prove it, but I suspect that Mussolini,
- who was a noted womaniser, also spent a good deal of the
- money on his mistresses."
After the armistice, Mussolini began his rise to power, assisted
- by electoral fraud and blackshirt violence, establishing a fascist
- dictorship by the mid-1920s.
His colonial ambitions in Africa brought him into contact with
- his old paymaster again in 1935. Now the British foreign secretary,
- Hoare signed the Hoare-Laval pact, which gave Italy control over
"There is no reason to believe the two men were friends, although
- Hoare did have an enduring love affair with Italy," said Martland,
- whose research is included in Christopher Andrew's history of
- MI5, Defence of the Realm, which was published last week.
The unpopularity of the Hoare-Laval pact in Britain forced Hoare
- to resign. Mussolini, meanwhile, built on his new colonial clout to
- ally with Hitler, entering the second world war in 1940, this time
- to fight against the allies.
Deposed following the allied invasion of Italy in 1943, Mussolini
- was killed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, by Italian partisans while
- fleeing Italy in an attempt to reach Switzerland two years later.
Martland said: "Mussolini ended his life hung upside down in Milan,
- but history has not been kind to Hoare either, condemned as an
- appeaser of fascism alongside Neville Chamberlain."