Italian Fascism: The Non-Authoritative Dictatorship

In Bosworth’s article “Everyday Mussolinism: Friends, Family, Locality and Violence in Fascist Italy”, ((Bosworth, R. J. B. “Everyday Mussolinism: Friends, Family, Locality and Violence in Fascist Italy.” Contemporary European History 14, no. 1 (February 2005): 23-43. the pervasive and totalitarian nature of the Italian Fascist regime is brought into question. Bosworth argues that even the Duce himself was aware of how ineffective his government was at implementing policy into change of everyday behavior. An anti-Fascist under current developed and was reoccurring without being institutionally controlled. ((Bosworth, Everyday Mussolinism, 28)) By examining multiple individual cases and examples, Bosworth successfully shows the multitude of ways the Italian public found opportunities to undermine Mussolini’s supposedly complete system of statist control. His view of the limited forcefulness of Fascism is summarized as, “a fragile influence, an ideology and a system which could readily enough be evaded. Its announced intention radically and permanently to change the Italian present, past and future was a long way from realization.” ((Bosworth, Everyday Mussolinism, 27)) Bosworth admits that the historiography in the field of the ordinary life of citizens under Italian Fascism is limited. He cites the works of Stalinist historian Fitzpatrick and Nazi historian Peukert as examples of quality writing including case studies of day to day existence concerning the Soviet Union and Germany that are not comparably present in Italian historical writing. ((Bosworth, Everdyday Mussolinism, 25))

In more ways than one, Mussolinism comes across as the weakest of the European totalitarian regimes of the 1930s. Especially in comparison with the clear danger present under Nazism and Stalinism, each which utilized a terrorist state police force, surveillance system, and camp system, Fascism seems the gentler of the three in term of prosecution of enemies of the state. In fact, Bosworth presents the Facist regime as so corrupted that it was actually easily manipulated by the populace. In Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union, it was completely the opposite, with the public being controlled by the powerful administration.

In all three systems violence, fear, and nationalism was a reoccurring theme. However, the levels of public fear were clearly the lowest in Fascist Italy. In addition, trying to unify a country, as each regime did, while also attempting to create a hyper-controlled state was contradictory to the extreme and eventually led to the downfall of each dictatorship. The majority of the public eventually realized that the government could not be trusted with such highly opposing domestic goals. Bosworth gives the sense that this opinion was highest and most vocally expressed in Italy, where very few people took Fascism seriously and most attempted to carry out their lives and families’ traditions as normally as possible. Although Mussolini hoped to instill a strong, masculine, national Italian public life, his citizens rejected his hopes and emasculated the Fascist regime by retaining their distinct, individual, and regional Italian identities in contradiction with Mussolini’s proposed ‘one Italy’. ((Bosworth, Everday Mussolinism, 41)) If you were a citizen of an oppressive regime, under what circumstances and / or threats would it take for you to change your way of life or beliefs to appease the state?



The Epiphenomenon Of Fascism

Fascist Italy did not experience the same strict adherence by its citizenry to party ideologies like Nazism or Stalinism did. People who claimed they were loyal Fascists remained more indulged in self-serving behaviors than members of the other two regimes. Many accounts of this are given in Bosworth’s Everyday Mussolinism and it leads to speculation. What reasons evoked the ubiquitous corruption under Mussolini’s rule that appears far less prevalent under Hitler and Stalin?

Mussolini’s Fascism has no definitive goal. It mentions expansionism and transformation, but does not mention to what ends. It embraces the struggles of life, but fails to redirect the energy put towards life’s battles towards a unified vision. It has almost no inherently cohesive aspects. Perhaps this lack of unifying elements attributed to Fascism’s failure to overhaul cultural priorities such as communism or Nazism did. It appears Fascism became flexibly subjective depending on who wanted to do what–and claiming to be a member of the Fascist party could be used as justifying explanation for all behaviors, especially ones that affected family.

Corruption manifested as a byproduct of both a lack of common dream and authority. The police forces under Mussolini proved incomparably calm to both the SS and NKVD. The officers could be coerced, and according to Bosworth, acted out of their own self interests rather than the states. Bosworth claims that the evidence against societal dissidents often proved vague and there appeared to be a lack of uniform method of police control.

Comparatively, this type of conspicuous and and counterproductive behavior would have been impossible to carry out under Stalin. Why was there so little corruption and so little fear under Mussolini?

Motherhood and Reproduction in the Fascist, Soviet, and Nazi Regimes

In Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mussolini’s Italy, all three regimes emphasized the national importance of genetics and increased birth rates as a state resource. In Hoffman and Timm’s chapter on Utopian Biopolitics, Nazi eugenics that promoted selective racial hygiene and purity is contrasted with Soviet non-selective pronatalism. ((Hoffmann, David L., and Annette F. Timm. “Utopian Biopolitics: Reproductive Policies, Gender Roles, and Sexuality in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” In Beyond Totalitarianism – Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, 87-129. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009. )) Wilson analyzes the woman’s role in Fascism in his article separately. ((Wilson, Perry R. “Women in Fascist Italy.” In Facist Italy and Nazi Germany – Comparisons and Contrasts, edited by Richard Bessel, 78-93. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996.))

Each regime attempted to characterize the woman’s role as a prolific mother in different ways. The common thread running between each dictatorship was the notion that women should actively participate in the creation of the future Utopian state by literally producing as many offspring as possible. As the Nazi state was repressive in many ways, ironically, it was not repressive of heterosexual sexual freedoms. Himmler himself sanctioned premarital and even extramarital sex, considering intercourse productive if between two Aryan individuals. ((Hoffmann and Timm, Utopian Biopolitics, p. 106)) In this way, sexual relationships, a highly, personal interaction, were characterized by practical, statist goals. In contrast, in both Nazi and Soviet policy, homosexuality was viewed as a waste of “genetic stock” and was therefore prosecuted as a crime against the state. In these illiberal nations that denounced capitalism, children were seen as a valuable and priceless commodity that should be produced and protected at all costs. Through incentivization and coercion, each regime found a way to influence reproductive decisions but ultimately did not increase birth rates as desired. In this way, fertility and virility took on new meanings in totalitarian states; no longer was having an individual family decision, each family was a “germ cell” with a collectivist responsibility.

As motherhood was glorified in all three countries, maternalist welfare was developed through government intervention and propaganda was produced that provided support and motivation for women to raise more children. The major standout difference was how the Soviet Union approached the role of women as mothers and labors, encouraging dual earning households. In Germany and Italy, the mother’s ideal domain was to forever remain the domestic home while the father’s world was either the workforce or battlefield. However, regardless of the portrayed ideal norm, women worked outside the home in both Germany and Italy.

It is notable that trying to raise birth rates during a period of world war seems counterproductive, when many men are away from home fighting and some may never return. Wilson concludes that “despite the enormous amount of attention paid to gender roles in Fascist rhetoric, it seems that the particular patterns of industrialization, commercialization, and urbanization had more power to shape female experiences in this period than the crude tools of Fascist ideology and policy.” ((Wilson, Women in Fascist Italy, p. 93)) I agree with Wilson and argue that not just Fascist policy failed to control gender and family roles, so too did Nazi and Soviet policy. Is it ever advisable for a state to define and encourage gender roles and family structure? In addition, is it possible for reproductive policies to be used in a democratic, non-dictatorial way to influence a country’s population?

Soviet and Italian Planned Industry 1930s

While the United States and Western Europe raised eyebrows towards Stalin’s fantastical collectivization plans, Russia committed to several massive industrial projects in order to mobilize the Soviet Union’s rising communist dream. Many of these industrial projects were characterized by prometheanism, or, newfound strategies to subjugate and conquer lands for means of industry. The project of Magnitogorsk, a massive city constructed in the 1930s under Stalin’s five year plan, prevails as a paragon example of Soviet economic mobilization.

Magnitogorsk is located at the far south-east of the Ural Mountains, close to the Ural River. Unusually large iron deposits located there provided Stalin with enough incentive to build an entire city in proximity to harvest the iron for industry. To ensure efficiency, Stalin placed experienced industrial officials at the forefront of the project, while much of the hands on labor force became peasants, kulaks, or other Soviet agitators whose actions merited deportation out past the Urals to Magnitogorsk.

The first to catch on to the rise in Soviet industry, according to Wolfgang Schivelbusch in his Three New Deals, was Mussolini, who subsequently created plans to develop a series of small cities in order to rebuild a powerful Italy. Similarly to Stalin, but on a less grand scale, Mussolini created his city plans year-by-year called the “nuove citta.” Like Magnitogorsk (pre-perestroika), these impromptu, large industrial projects with little modification turned into “anti-cities.” Sabaudia, the city Schivelbusch uses as an example, is reminiscent of a deserted prison marked by its emptiness and harsh geographic structuring.

Sabaudia, Schivelbusch's example of an "anti-city." (p.147)

Sabaudia, Schivelbusch’s example of an “anti-city.” (p.147)

It seems as though both Stalin and Mussolini planned too far ahead for the immediate future. How beneficial were large construction projects for stimulating long term economic mobility for the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy in the 1930, despite the fact that many of these operations fell flat? Was the actual creation itself the goal?

Italy: A State in Need of Control

Evolve e·volve (ēˈvälv/) verb 1. To develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form.

The evolution of the Corporations in Mussolini’s fascist state lends to a larger discussion of the Duce’s leadership strategy leading up to and during the Second World War. Although much of Mussolini’s strategy of government changed, the shift that the national Corporations went through highlights one of the major inconsistencies that helped solidify Mussolini’s ineffectiveness as a ruler. The Corporations, in addition to the Constitution of the National Fascist Party (drafted in 1932), show Mussolini’s attempts to streamline his power through economic, political, and social means.

In 1932, the Fascist Party drafted a constitution which laid out the principles under which the government must be run. The first article of the constitution reads as follows: “The National Fascist Party is a civilian militia under the order of The Leader in the service of the Fascist State.” ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State in Italy under Mussolini”, London: Wayland Publishers, 44)) This, in essence, means that every member of the Fascist Party (ergo everyone in Italy) doubled as a member of Mussolini’s army, available to his beck and call whenever he so pleased. This shows how tight a grip on the Italian people Mussolini needed (or thought he needed) in order to maintain power.

An autocratic ruler must control both subordinates and the population as a whole. Mussolini attempted to do so by creating his “Corporations”- which he originally intended to function as an economic entity. In 1939, however, the Corporations became “a part of the State’s political machinery.” ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State in Italy under Mussolini” 38)). Candidates who wished to stand for election for various positions within Mussolini’s government must be chosen by the members of the Corporations, an entity directly controlled by the government; in essence, Mussolini and his inner circle therefore controlled the electoral system.

Much like any other dictator of his time, Mussolini needed control. Hitler had the SS, Stalin had his own means, and Mussolini had political movements. The Duce did not resort to Gulags or Death Camps like his Axis counterparts, but rather strict, by the book political development. This did not work; he, unlike Hitler and Stalin, was the only dictator of his time to be overthrown by his own people. If Mussolini had sought control in a different, more intimidating manner in the place of manipulating the political system to his advantage, would he have lived to see the end of the war? Something to think about.

Fascist Italy and Behavior of Individuals

“The Fascist State” by Christopher Leeds describes the ways in which Mussolini and the Italian Fascist Party attempted to mold Italian society.

“Our whole way of eating, dressing, working and sleeping, in short all our everyday habits, must be changed” ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State” in Italy under Mussolini, London: Wayland Publishers, 52.)) .

This passage is particularly important to the article because it highlights the depth in which the fascist government and Mussolini sought to modify Italian society and change individuals’ behavior. However, as Leeds suggests they were not able to successfully do so. This was in part due to the fact that the regime lacked tangible policies to accomplish specific goals ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State”, 35.)) . This article challenged preexisting ideas I had about fascism in Italy and the impact it had on lives of individuals.
The regime intervened on a wide array of themes within Italy’s cultural sphere including sport, leisure behavior, and customs. Sports were of great importance and were used as a form of propaganda for the state, much like that of the Nazi Regime. All clubs, groups and societies were brought under control of the Fascist regime in an attempt to control the behavior, activities and thoughts of all citizens. Fascist leaders also thought it was necessary to modify traditional Italian customs that reflected or were introduced during times when Italy was occupied by France (Napoleon) and Spain ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State”, 52)). Despite attempts to control all aspects of the private sphere of individuals, the Italian population as a whole did not undergo a dramatic transformation. In fact, such government invasion of private life aggravated most Italians.
Why do you think the behavior of Italians remained largely unaffected by the changes imposed by the State? How does Italy’s social sphere compare to that of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany?

A Fluctuating State

I used to think of Fascist regimes as strict and highly consistent. However, Christopher Leeds’ article, “The Fascist State” describes the vast changes that occurred within the Fascist party during its time in power. The party’s lack of concrete political ideologies granted it the flexibility to react to economic, social, and political developments throughout the decades.

The Fascist party, led by Mussolini, could implement policies even if they seemed useless or superfluous. I particularly enjoyed the example of the party’s incentives to increase the Italian population and the exchange between Emil Ludwig, the German writer and reporter, and Mussolini. When Ludwig questioned Mussolini’s goal to increase the Italian population, the Duce erupted in the reporters face ((Leeds, Christopher. “The Fascist State” in Italy under Mussolini, London: Wayland Publishers, 40.)) Such a lively exchange highlighted Mussolini’s political sensitivity and his obsession with control. The Fascist state, and its leader, needed to appear infallible in order to legitimize the authoritarian control it exerted over Italy. Ludwig questioned, and rightly so, the necessity Mussolini’s policies aimed at increasing the Italian population due to the country’s existing high population density ((Christopher Leeds, “The Fascist State,” 40.)) These policies cemented the post-WWI fears that we studied earlier in the year. The devastating casualties inflicted by modern weapons taught world leaders that military success hinged on manpower.

Such episodes, such as the one between Ludwig and Mussolini, also start to highlight a trend that authoritarian leaders all stand on edge and might suffer from some sort of self confidence problems. Do you think that self-consciousness is a prerequisite to become a dictator?

State of the Fascist State

In Leeds’s The Fascist State, the public acts and social requirements of Italian Fascism are explored in minor detail. Within the text we see various accounts of the principles held dear to the fascist government and the policies Mussolini implemented (often in bizarre and ludicrous ways) in the attempt to realize those principles.

Perhaps the most intriguing segment of the chapter is the bit about the “battle of natality”; that is, Mussolini’s attempts at increasing the population of Italy by providing incentives for his people to procreate. While this might seem initially like a valid method of bolstering a country’s power (by equating manpower with national capacity), to me it appears contradictory to Mussolini’s claimed intent with fascism. With Italy already “small and thickly populated”, in order for there to be space for the extra twenty million citizens Mussolini projected would exist within twenty years the nation would have to expand, whether it be by diplomatic annexation or conquering- though neither tactic was a priority in Mussolini’s Fascism. ((Leeds, The Fascist State, 40.))

This oversimplification of a national element and the resulting misdirection of procedure was typical of the Partito Nazionale Fascista, however, which never quite understood how to utilize the immense control it had over its subjects in a productive manner. The nonsense of Mussolini’s policies is indirectly referenced in The Fascist State as well; his triumphant claims of being “aristocratic and democratic, reactionary and revolutionary, legalistic and illegalistic” really convey nothing more than the frequent dichotomy between his government’s aims and its methods.

Mussolini: Rome Revived or Rome Reviled?

Is a politician’s image imposed externally, by admirers and critics located domestically as well as abroad, examining the politician within his respective surrounding context and time period? [Bottom-up] Or, on the other hand, does a ruler paint his own political picture, a self-created phenomenon, descending internally from the ruler himself? [Top-down] This is the question that R. J. B. Bosworth examines in a chapter of his 1998 publication, “Mussolini the Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?”. Truly, as Bosworth illuminates based on multiple academic’s opinions of Benito Mussolini during and after his reign of power, a politician’s image is both a combination of self-determining propaganda and external popular evaluation.

Mussolini ruled as a charismatic leader, relying upon his positive public image to reinforce his extremist Fascist party ideology and state. While the Duce’s dictatorship and personality paled in comparison to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia (hence the Dictator Minor label), all three rulers shared in common a tendency toward the ‘Great Man’ approach. This approach to history evaluates a leader based on his heroism as the determining force of his historical impact. As Bosworth asserts, normally this approach to analyzing history is “well out of favor” but “to some extent, however, the history of Fascism and, more generally, that of twentieth-century European politics, is an exception to that rule.” ((B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism, London: Arnold, 1998, 74. 59 ))

Bosworth examines how over the course of Mussolini’s dictatorship from 1922 – 1943, the effective influence of Mussolini’s fascist rule lost power parallel to the decline of what Emilio Gentile calls, ‘the imagined Mussolini’. Passerini accepts Gentile’s view “that Fascism brought mythical thought to power.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 61. )) Other historians, throughout Bosworth’s article, refer to this grandiose conception of Mussolini as ‘the myth of Mussolini.’ When Mussolini rose to power, he did so under the pretense of embodying the values of the Italian public, as a “medium of a mass age.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 62. )) Public reverence for the heroic dictator reached levels of deep religious awe; Mussolini’s call for a New, collectivist, Italy resonated deep in the Risorgimento national spirit. Italy was traditionally a diverse and separated country, even after the Italian Unification of the 19th century  – Could Mussolini finally be the leader destined to bring together the Italian people into a united nation? Mussolini capitalized on the declining pre-modern Catholic papal influence to replace with a modern religious appreciation of the secular state. But after 1925, when Mussolini decided against ruling by the Italian Constitution and created his own pseudo-legal totalitarian state, public adoration turned to public crucifixion.

Especially when Mussolini – always an an advocate of aggression rejecting the doctrine of pacifism – joined the WWII offensive in June 1940, with a false consolation to the Italian masses that it would be a short-lived dispute, public opinion of him really fell out of favor when increasing global military conflict created a sense of betrayal within the Italian people. Bosworth extols this concept, “Figures blessed or afflicted by charisma may, of course, be hated as well as loved. Prayers to the good Mussolini were matched by anathemas to the evil one.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 65 )) While the Duce may have been a master propagandist in his own right, his pervasive slogan, ‘Mussolini is always right’ will go down in history as an ironic catchphrase, as his resonant historical image, in the words of Bosworth, is as war-time Europe’s “failed dictator.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 59 ))

Based on your understanding of each of the dictator’s cult of personality and their respective states (Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, Stalin’s Communist Russia, and Hitler’s Nazi Germany), do you believe that Bosworth’s concluding assessment of Mussolini’s “image of a failed dictator, at least in contrast with Hitler and Stalin” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 59 )) is an accurate evaluation?

Mussolini: Master Propagandist or Savior of Italy?

Mussolini ha sempre ragione, loosely translated to Mussolini is always right, in many ways perfectly embodies the complicated identity of the Italian fascist dictator. ((B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” In The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism ed. by Bosworth (London: Arnold, 1998), 64.))  As B.J.B Bosworth explored the various biographies put forth about Mussolini in “Mussolini The Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” several key themes emerged in his analysis.  The local and international idolization of Mussolini coupled with the external pressure of several wars partially explained the downfall of the Italian Fascist regime and Italy after the Second World War.

Mussolini’s image as a capable stalwart symbol of Italian potential gained much of the initial support for the Fascist party.  By 1923 and the official takeover of the regime, Mussolini attained an almost godlike and Messianic position in mass politics. ((Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 65.))  The main problem with placing Mussolini on a pedestal came when he could not live up to the heroic potential he promised.  While throughout the 1920s Italy became a great European power, with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, once more the country lost its prestige.  Moreover, the almost immediate disaster in Greece following entry in WWII obliterated the superman image of Mussolini.  This turn away from Mussolini as a savior, or even a shining example of an inferior race (in Trevelyan and Coote’s perspective), propelled biographies from the mid-1930s towards labeling him a consummate actor caught up in the role of a godlike dictator.  The fall in public opinion on Mussolini signaled the end of popular support for the Fascist state.  Bosworth stipulated that Mussolini as a fake superman lasted in popular and scholarly biographies through the 1980s. ((Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 81.))

The broad change in opinion over the true identity of Mussolini brings up two important questions.  Can the blame for Italy’s failure to truly dominate as a great power during and after World War Two be placed, even partially, on Mussolini’s shoulders?