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Its achievements, outside the field of propaganda, were a sham Discuss the verdict on Mussolinis economic and social

policy between 1925 and 1939.


Depending on whom one believes Benito Mussolini was either a blustering buffoon or a benign autocrat. Mussolinis aims ultimately dictate how one evaluates his regime. His predominant objectives were to create an Italian state with a strong identity and a role within Europe with a powerful military force. New policies needed to be put in place to transform the Italian society into a war machine while maintaining a prospering economy to ultimately fulfil the goals of the Il Duce. Whether these economic and social policies can really be deemed a sham is debatable. Mussolinis propaganda achievements are often considered to be one of the great successes of his regime. The cult of the Duce, which Mussolini, created differed enormously from that of other authoritarian regimes. Mussolini was the first political leader to harness systematically the techniques of theatre, the visual arts and the mass media to a personalised system of rule; he wanted the people of Italy to praise him. Denis Mack Smith would certainly agree with the statement that outside of the field of propaganda its achievements were a sham, tending to see Mussolinis talents lying chiefly in the areas of acting and propaganda. The press, radio and cinema were all used to project his image as the omniscient, omnipotent and indispensable ruler of Italy. By the end of the 1920s, the process of what one could call Mussolinis image-building was well under way. The focus of this operation was on Mussolini as the sole Fascist saviour of Italy. Inevitably, this led to the emergence of the perception, which was especially widespread among foreigners, that Fascism equalled Mussolinianism and was summed up in the phrase, Mussolini is always right, which was written on walls in Rome. Mussolini presented himself as a deity and Fascism as a secular religion. He had once written: 'We want to believe, we have to believe; mankind needs a credo. Faith moves mountains because it gives us the illusion that mountains do move. This illusion is perhaps the only real thing in life.' According to Roger Griffin, the concept of 'rebirth' is crucial in understanding Italian Fascism. Mussolini was prepared to use many of the symbols and rituals of Roman Catholicism. To maintain the distinctiveness of his own secular religion and his position as its cult leader, Mussolini instituted a new calendar with Year 1 beginning with 1922; he established 'holy days' like 23 March, to remind Italians of the advent of Fascism; he included 21 April, the birth of the city of Rome, to emphasise his intention to recreate the greatness of the Roman Empire. Shrines to Fascist martyrs with eternal flames were constructed and each Fascist party headquarters had to have a room set aside as a memorial chapel. Mussolinis propaganda achievements were vast. The sheer volume of propaganda stressing Mussolinis genius and power deterred potential opposition and in this sense achieved its aims. His cult of personality even spread beyond the boundaries of Italy; much was heard of the Fascist successes abroad. As well as this, many foreign journalists who explored Fascist Italy were impressed by the apparent enthusiasm displayed at Fascist rallies; his popularity did not correlate with an authoritarian regime. In fact Renzo De Felice argued that Mussolini was genuinely popular, particularly after his victory in Ethiopia. However it is very difficult to gauge Mussolinis popularity because of the oppression of opposition newspapers. Although Mussolini did fully implement a terror

state, as other authoritarian dictators would implement after him, dissidents were exiled from the Fascist state and thousands killed. The cult was therefore vital to the way Italian Fascism became a regime, integrating the population in a system of consensus that appeared solid until it was undermined by the setbacks of World War Two. Mussolini's main objective was to build Italy's economy to a level where it could rival the great industrial powers of the post-war period, namely Britain, France and, to a lesser extent, Germany in Europe. To do so, he aimed to achieve autarky; to have a selfsufficient Italy that he believed was vital to national security. In the early 1930's Italy's economy was backward and agricultural, especially in the economically destitute South. A massive program of industrialisation would need to be carried out in order to bring the economy up to the standards of West Europe. Mussolini also needed economic success to keep public opinion on his side. Therefore in order to answer the question whether his economy was a sham these aims need to be addressed. On the one hand it could be argued that his economic policies were, on the contrary to the statement, a success. His Battle for Grain was arguably a huge success. The main aim for the battle was to reduce the volume of foreign wheat imports, which were subject to high import duties. The state provided storage facilities and marketing agencies as well as training courses and publicity campaigns in new methods. In the late 1940s wheat production was double what is had been in the early 1920s. Wheat imports were dramatically reduced. However in comparison other European countries wheat yields were relatively low and costs high. Even, wheat production lagged behind that of Britain and France. Much of the land used for wheat was in the hot South and could have been better used for olive production. Thus it did not make very much sense, especially when Italy began to import Olive oil. It also failed to address the North-South divide in Italy where the South was significantly more rural and poor. The policy sacrificed other agriculture, and therefore exports, for Mussolinis prestige. The propaganda machine claimed the Battle for Grain was an overwhelming success. Once again, Mussolini was glorified as the bringer of abundant harvests, and his popularity increased. In 1928 another battle ensued, this time, a Battle for Land. This was a policy of land reclamation a battle to clear marshland. The Battle for Land was part of the drive to improve and increase agricultural yield. Some project we a success, such as the Pontine Marshes an area of mosquito infested land that was to have housing built on it. By 1935, they were providing land for settlement. The marshes were near Rome and Mussolini yet another propaganda opportunity. Areas of clear land had roads built on them. The schemes were labour intensive and necessitated the employment of many people. The Battle of Land was seen as a success, but in reality, it was abandoned in 1940 and most of the land reclamation projects were a failure. In theory, the Battle of Land was part of a bigger programme of land redistribution linked with the Battle of Fran. This was also a failure. Fewer than 10,000 peasant families were actually resettled on reclaimed land. Fascism did little to change the traditional patterns of landholding or to revive rural Italy. Fascist Italy also introduced a corporatist economic system. Under this system private enterprise would control production but it would be supervised by the state. Italian Fascism presented the economic system of corporatism as the solution that would preserve private enterprise and property while allowing the state to intervene in the economy when private enterprise failed. In 1934 a decree created 22 corporations each for a particular field of economic activity (categoria) and each responsible not only

for the administration of labour contract but also for the promotion of interests of its field in general. However the corporations were dominated by Fascists rather that the intended workers representatives and their interest tended to be pushed aside. They also has little influence; industrialists tending to ignore the corporations as they were advisory rather than being legally binding. Corporations did not solve the conflict between capita and labour, but suppressed them and never took the important role that Mussolini has suggested. Overall the introduction of the corporative economic system was a failure. In conclusion Fascist economic policies were largely failures. The Battles for Grain and Land has very limited success. Mussolini was lucky to have been able to ride the European-wide boom of the 1920's. However, simply being carried along on a wave of economic success would not make Italy an important industrial power. In one of his most successful economic policies, Mussolini created IRI which allowed him to take control of many key industries as it provided finance for firms producing goods such as steel, electricity and machine-tools. However, as a domestic policy the success of such a scheme must be judged to have been flawed, as it made no impact on the north-south divide as new developments were by and large centred on the North. In addition corruption, which so regularly leaked into Italian politics, diminished the effectiveness of the IRI. With industry on a long leash and the South still in a medieval economic state Mussolini's apparent success in industrialising Italy with a national purpose was always mostly rhetoric. According to Dennis Mack Smith: "Success in this battle was... another illusory propaganda victory won at the expense of the Italian economy in general and consumers in particular" Mussolinis social policies can be divided into youth, women and religion. His main aim was to produce a Nation of Fascists. He wanted to transform the Italian society and character, replacing the bourgeois mentality with commitment to fascism and the nation. He aimed to inculcate the population with Fascist beliefs while at the same time remaking Italians into a hardy, disciplined and united race. Fascism subscribed a subservient role for women, but this attitude was not new and not specific to Fascist ideology. The influence of the patriarchal Catholic Church meant that traditional views on womens position were upheld. The state attempted to remove women from the workforce. However these attempts were largely futile; the proportion of women working only fell from 33 per cent in 1922 to 28 per cent in 1936, which was much more the result of the Depression rather than Fascist policies. Legislation, such as the 1938 law putting a quota of 10 per cent on women in public employment and professions, was difficult to enforce. They were also disapproving of women in higher education; however despite this the female university population actually increased from 6 per cent in 1914 to 10 per cent in 1938. As well as trying to keep from areas which they saw unfit they also introduced the Battle for Births. Mussolini and the Catholic Church coincided on the issue of gender roles and contraception: both felt that women should assume a role as wife and mother, and both disagreed with contraception and abortion, with Mussolini banning the former. The Battle for Births began in 1927: Mussolini introduced a number of measures to encourage reproduction, with an objective of increasing the population from 40 million to 60 million by 1950. Loans were offered to married couples, with part of the loan cancelled for each new child, and any married man who had more than six children was made exempt from taxation. Mussolini, who had developed a Cult of Personality, argued that the Italian people had a duty to himself to produce as many children as possible. The

Battle for Births in 1927 aimed to increase population by 50% to 60% by 1950. In fact, the birth rate declined until 1936, and rose only very slowly after this. By 1950, the population was only 47.5 million, a figure only reached by a decrease in emigration rather than a significant increase in birth rate. Thus his policies towards women, as well as being economically unviable, were categorical failures. Mussolinis policies towards the youth were all part of his aim to produce proud warriors working hard to improve the nations strength. The Fascist Party Secretary, Starace said the ideal Fascist youth tempers all enthusiasm with iron disciplinedespises fear; love the hard life, and serves with faith, passion and happiness the cause of Fascism. Mussolini aimed to create loyal future fascists to secure regime, and aggressive, disciplined future soldiers. The youth was to be identified with fascism, Mussolini and Italy complete subordination to the national state. One way in which this was achieved was through education reforms. In schools, teachers loyalty to the Party was enforces in 1929. In 1937 a compulsory membership of the Fascist Teachers Associations was enforced. The Cult of personality was promoted heavily in school, with pictures of Mussolini adorning all classrooms. There was also a stress on national greatness enforced by history and literature on the topic. Books lacking patriotism were banned and by 1936 one official national history textbook was in use, stressing the leading role of Italy in world history. Youth groups were also established, attempting to reach children outside of school though the ONB. This aimed to transform the Italian nations body and soul; and focused on both military and ideological training, as well as sports and fitness. Children from the age of eight to those at university were to attend such organizations. There was an apparent success of these policies, as Fascism managed to control the school curriculum. The ONB was a great success; by 1937, seven million youths had joined the ONB. However it is not clear how many people were actually converted to Mussolinis fascist ideology. Many young people left school at 11, and in private and Catholic schools the state curriculum and ONB membership were not enforced so they were outside the programme of indoctrination. Even at universities, some people who had had a full fascist education were still not committed to Mussolinis ideals. Overall, the Fascists did establish control over the minds of young Italians, but there is plenty of evidence that suggests they failed to secure complete commitment to Fascism this way. Finally Mussolinis relationship with the church was extremely important factors of his social reforms. Mussolini understood the necessity to build relations with the Roman Catholic Church due to its sheer amount of influence on the population. Whilst Mussolini may have wished to govern the political side of Italy, he had to accept that the Catholic Church governed the spiritual side. Mussolini disliked the Catholic Church and its Priests; however he aimed to compromise with the Church to win greater public support at home. In 1929, the Lateran agreements ended conflict between the Italian state and Catholic Church. The Pope was given Vatican City, as an autonomous region, and compensation for historic losses. In return, Mussolini received the recognition of the Catholic Church (both in terms of the state and his fascist regime). Catholicism was established as the state religion, and religious education became compulsory in all state schools. This proved to be a great achievement for Mussolini, as it secured the moral of backing of the Church (and therefore the millions of Italians who looked to the Church for guidance), while guaranteeing that the Church and its clerics would not become a source of political opposition. On the other hand, this policy represented that Mussolini had failed to replace Catholicism with Fascism, and that he was therefore giving up on trying removing the influence of the Church over Italian society. Also, the relations

between the Church and the Fascist state were complicated. By 1931, disputes over the Catholic Action youth group which rivalled the ONB raised the conflict over access to the minds of the young. After anti-Semitic laws in 1938, the alliance between the Church and Fascism was over. In conclusion the social and economic policies of Fascist Italy were truly a sham. According to Patricia Knight Fascisms attempts to transform Italy therefore fell well short of a social revolution. Social change was limited to the north and central parts of Italy. The regime failed to reconcile the north and south of Italy as well as increasing the gap between the rich and poor. It could be argued that the failures of the economic and social policies necessitated the propaganda machine to be particularly effective. It is possible that without the propaganda successes Fascism may not have been able to survive for as long as it did.