The Murder of Matteotti

Giacomo Matteotti verbal attacks on Mussolini lead to his murder. Matteotti was one of the brave people in Italy who dared to speak out against Mussolini. Matteotti was a socialist (he was head of the Italian Socialist Party) and therefore shared none of the views of the post-March on Rome Mussolini. Matteotti was not afraid to speak his mind – but this bravery was to cost him his life.

On June 10th 1924, Matteotti disappeared. On August 18th his body was found in a grave just outside of Rome. A carpenter’s file had been driven into his chest.

Matteotti’s death created outrage in Italy and it nearly cost Mussolini his political career. Ironically, it also gave him the opportunities to expand his power in Italy – the very thing that Matteotti had warned people about.

In the early months of 1924, Mussolini had created the ceka. Its task was to frighten people at elections so that they voted for the Fascists. Two members of the ceka were Albino Volpi and Amerigo Dumini. Both were professional gangsters and both were employed by Mussolini. They received daily pay from Mussolini’s press office.

Historians such as Denis Mack Smith believe that these men were employed with the one specific task of getting rid of Matteotti.

On May 30th 1924, Matteotti made an passionate speech in Rome condemning Mussolini’s leadership of Italy. He declared that the 1924 election was a fraud and that the Fascists had won it using violence and a system corrupted by the Acerbo Law. He was clearly seen as a threat to Mussolini and his speeches had the potential of undermining Mussolini’s position.

On June 10th, Matteotti disappeared. People in the street where he lived had noticed that his house was being watched and they specifically noticed a Lancia car parked in the street which did not belong to anyone in that street. One man had taken the registration number of the car and after Matteotti had disappeared, he gave this number to the police. The police quickly traced the car and found blood on the back seat. This was in an era before DNA testing and the finding of blood itself did not specifically link the car to Matteotti.

However, Mussolini must have felt so vulnerable that he ordered the arrest of Dumini and the men who were part of his ‘gang’. Between June 15th and June 22nd, Dumini was questioned by the police. During this time some of the evidence relating to the case disappeared – as did many members of the ceka who went into hiding. Who disposed of the evidence and who tipped off the members of the ceka?

On August 18th 1924, Matteotti’s body was found in a shallow grave just outside of Rome. Now Dumini was charged with murder and sent to prison.

There is no evidence to link Mussolini to the murder. It is possible that he did order it but that cannot be proved. It could also be the case that Dumini was simply being over loyal to his boss and decided himself that Matteotti was a threat to Mussolini’s power and had to be eliminated. His murder could have been a demonstration of Dumini’s loyalty to Mussolini who always denied any knowledge about the circumstances of the murder.

However, people in Italy did not believe this and 1924 is the year that was Mussolini’s most testing in terms of maintaining his grip on Italy. Mussolini resorted to promising that any violent men in the Fascist Party would be kicked out and he sacked three Fascist ministers from his cabinet. This caused problems in the Fascist movement itself. There were those who saw Mussolini as being too soft and giving in to the population too easily – so it appeared as if Mussolini was losing public support and support from within the Fascist Party. Fifty senior officers in his private army – the MVSN – stormed into his office in Rome and demanded that he rule as a dictator or they would overthrow him and put someone tougher in power. Mussolini decided to become tougher. He publicly stated that Dumini had acted “stupidly” but said the following:

Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary. (Jan 1925)

 This was sufficient to win back the support of the MVSN and it was the start of Mussolini’s drive to dictatorship.