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How successful was Mussolini in turning Italy into a nation of fascists

Fascism is an evangelical creed. Its followers tend to believe in the need to educate the unbelievers, to turn them into ‘good fascists’ – strong, pure, and obedient. Mussolini, throughout his 20 year reign in Italy, tried to turn the Italians into Fascisti. Whether he succeeded or not is an issue that on the surface seems to have a clear answer – no. If he had succeeded, why are Italians between the age of sixty-five and ninety not rampant fascists? But we must remember that there is a question as to what constitutes ‘success’. Was success merely to have them perform the ‘rituals’ of fascism, the salutes, the marches, the seemingly unthinking obedience and adulation of Il Duce, or was success a lasting impression upon the Italian people, making them committed fascists for evermore, fascist state or no?So there are different definitions for success. Below, we shall explore different sections of the population, and how Mussolini tried to turn each of them into fascists, committed or lacklustre.’Grab them while they are young’ has been the motto of many an ideology, from church Sunday Schools to the Scout Movement, and it was equally important to the fascists in Italy. Fascism was, in many ways, an ideology of the young. It was dynamic, it invoked strength and honour; it seemingly threw off the bonds of the established political system. Once fascism became the established political system, this spirit of youthful dynamism, the spirit of credere, obbediere, combattere needed to be infused in a whole new generation of children, growing up in the fascist state.The fascists in Italy thus aimed much of their propaganda and indoctrination machine at the youth of Italy. Balilla, a youth organisation naturally stressing the values of the Regime was created, initially run by the PNF, but later taken over by the Education Ministry, to cater to both boys and girls between the ages of six and eighteen. There were a number of Balilla subgroups, for different ages, the youngest being the grandiloquently named ‘Children of the She Wolf’. After the age of eight, children were separated by gender, something that sheds light upon the fascists values regarding women, which we shall deal with later.Balilla promoted loyalty to the regime above everything else; Rule 12 of the Balilla imprecates the following:When one finds one’s self in the presence of people, even adults, who cast doubt on the fundamental political principles of the Regime, or who express lack of the faith in it’s Leaders…one must intervene to correct, and if necessary, to scold and silence anyone who holds an offensive attitude towards the regime.It seems that ‘Believe, Fight and Obey’ applies only to the party, not necessarily to ones elders. Despite such irresistible rules, it seems the uptake was not as high as was hoped, as in 1935, membership was made compulsory.Inside the education system, fascist ideology also began to take root. Mussolini began to litter schools, portraits being present in every classroom, each child being given a notebook with him on the cover, and a free copy of Pinis Life of Mussolini; songs about Il Duce were sung daily. In 1926, a third of all history textbooks were banned – presumably those that didn’t show Italy as the worlds most glorious nation. In 1928, the elementary schoolbook was standardised into one single volume, called the Libro Unico. Various other measures were introduced, such as banning dialects, and introducing military education.It seems that children were in fact influenced, but not to a great extent, as it seems, according to various local party sources, there were sever problems in getting children motivated to attend extra-curricular activities, which does not suggest an eager fascist mind.The treatment of women was much as one would expect from a regime such as the Mussolini Regime. It focused heavily on the role of women in the home, the need for childbearing and rearing, and the natural superiority of the male half of the species, who undertook all the ‘important’ work – fighting, and building a great Italy. On this issue, the Catholic Church was, for once, completely in line with the fascists. The fascist ideals of the homemaking wife were ones the Church had been force-feeding the faithful for centuries.To this end, the fascists prescribed women a certain way of life fairly strictly. On the employment front, Women were excluded from all but 10% of state provided employment, and in 1938, the measure was extended to much of the private sector. Yet in order to protect women from having to sacrifice their breeding roles, the regime did pass laws protecting women at work.Many teaching positions were not to be taken by women, such as teaching Latin, Philosophy, or History. Perversely, it seems, there were more women in University in 1938 than before the regime came to power, despite attention being paid to rearing them for housekeeping and breeding duties lower down in the school system.Politically, ordinary women were on a par with ordinary men – they had little rights and were expected to follow the fascist creed as much as men, although in their case the creed was a little different. Women were encouraged to do charity work within the state machine, and took part in the campaign against the sanctions imposed by the League of Nations, culminating in a mass donation of gold wedding rings to the state in exchange for tin ones.It seems, however that the fascist indoctrination of the female part of Italian society did not work as well as was planned. Despite Mussolinis target of 60 million Italians by the end of the 1930’s, the birth rate actually fell, something the regime blamed on a variety of causes, ranging from womens vanity, to their lack of faith, and frivolity.The Catholic Church has always been, and still is, a very important influence upon Italian society – after all, Rome is it’s spiritual capital, and the eternal city houses it’s seat of earth-to-heaven relations, the pope. For a long time, the holy see saw the Italian government as an ungodly regime, and only supported the liberals, partly by actually allowing catholics to vote, only when the spectre of socialism stalked the land. Mussolini went a very long way to settle this ancient quarrel between the State and the Church of Italy, and indeed did so in 1929.The Church stood in the way of creating a great nation of fascists, and continued to do so right through the regimes term in power. But Mussolini reconciled many catholics to the regime with his conciliatory moves towards the Catholic Church, culminating in the Lateran Pacts, and the Concordat in 1929. Before that, he had reintroduced Religious Education into schools, restored crucifix’s in schoolrooms and courts – next to, no doubt, portraits of Il Duce – and paid the Church reparations for land and income lost during the Risorgimento. The Lateran Accords gave the pope his own separate state (now the Vatican – the worlds smallest sovereign state), in return for the popes recognition of Rome as the Capital of Italy. The Concordat went further, establishing Catholicism within the Italian state, giving the state a veto over certain, major, church appointments, extending the teaching of Religious Education into the secondary system, and accepting the presence of the Catholic Youth groups, Catholic Action.Despite later disagreements – the 1931 encyclical and the 1938 criticism of the states anti-semitism being the major ones – the relationship between the Church and the state had been ameliorated a great deal by Mussolini, effectively ending a problem that had plagued Italy since it’s conception as a modern state.But how much did Catholics follow their leaders in becoming accepting of the fascist regime, or indeed to become committed fascists?As the Historian Clark puts it,The Catholic Church was the greatest obstacle to any ‘totalitarian’ regime in Italy. All the others, Parliament, the press, opposition parties, unions, could be smashed or emasculated, but not the Church.So the Church still had a major influence over the Italian people, and Catholics could not become true fascists whilst remaining true, or even to an extent partial, Catholics.In summation, it seems that Mussolini failed in our first definition of success. All Italians were not raving fascists, committed to die for the regime, and the Duce. This was proven later on by the suspicious absence of Italians who threw themselves upon their swords upon the Allied Liberation.But on our second definition, he may have succeeded somewhat more than on the first. The People did show at least perfunctory fascist values, and did not rise up against Mussolini, and the main aim of Mussolini’s politics was preserved – namely the preservation of Mussolini’s political life.

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