After Mussolini's elevation to power, Fascism began its development of a authoritarian form of social organization. Within a few years, representative democracy in Italy had been replaced by a centralized autocracy which at its apex was the absolute dictatorship of Mussolini in whom were concentrated all the principal functions of Government. Directly under him was the Grand Council of Fascism, constituting the political general staff of the regime and of the Fascist Party. The Fascist Party was legally identified with the state, and all other parties were outlawed. Italian Fascism while a police state, was not an absolutist dictarorship in the same sence of NAZI Germany or the Soviet Union. The reason for this was that Mussolini and his Fascists while dominating Italywere never the sole power center in the country.
The Italian family was never penetrated to the extent that the NAZIs suceeded in Germany, effectively using the Hitler Youth. In addition the Church continued to be a influential factor in Italian life and an institution that the Fascists never were able to dominate. law promulgated in February, 1934, established the Corporations which comprised a part of the apparatus of state. They consisted of government-appointed representatives of employers, workers, the government, and the Fascist Party, the last-named acting in the capacity of representatives also of the public.
Mussolini described his Fascist state as a "single police force". Mussolini described himself as the chief policeman of Italy. Mussolini had the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN) which was organized in 1923 to provide the force reuired by the Party. The MUSN was formed from the local Fascist bands throughout Italy. MUSN members had to pledge complete obedience to Mussolini. Because of the black shirts of their uniforms they became known as the Black Shirt Militia. Another important arm of the police state comprised a secret, terroristic, and espionage body, established about 1922. The existence of this body was acknowledged publicly
for the first time in a law of 1926, authorizing the establishment of special tribunals "for the defense of the state"; it was generally referred to as the Ceca. In 1931 this
body was formally vested with the disposition of "political crimes" (opposition to Fascism), and was renamed the Organizzazione Vigilanza Repressione Antifascismo
(OVRA). Through the use of these forces opposition to the Fascist regime was ruthlessly suppressed; civil rights were abolished, and rigorous censorship was instituted. While there was abomidable brutality including killings, the Italian police state never reached the level of brutality that the NAZI police state overseen by Heinrich Himmler's SS achieved. One historian describes how a druken revilery which might include singing antifascist songs could result in banishment to a rub down remote village. [Bosworth] That is a far cry for sure than what might await a German confined to Dachau.
An important part of any totalitarian system, both Communist and Fascist, is control of the media. At the time that Mussolini created the Fascist state this primarilyn meant the press. This is important because totalitarians do not want to face scrutiny. They want the public to believe that the people in power are both competent and honest. Rather than squabling parlimentary politicans, the image they want to portray is an almost super-human leader taking decisive actions to deal with the country's problems. This way of course even grevious mitakes and ciminal activity can be easily covered up.
There is a general belief that Italian Fascism never reached the level of violence
and murder of NAZIism was that the Italian national character was different than the Germans. Some authors refer to brava gente ("nice people"). This is an interesting question. Many Europeans were disposed to seeing the terrible wars of the 20th century a result of the German national character. This of course was an easy answer and ebabled Europeans to defer any wider resonsibility. One modern historian is very dubious about the simple answer of narional character. [Bosworth] Italian brutality in Africa as well as other barbarous actions of the Fascist state suggest that Italians were quite capable of barbarous acts. It also suggests that the reason that Italian Fascism never turned as murderous as the NAZIs may have other causes than national character.
Italian Fascism while a police state, was not an absolutist dictarorship in the same sence of NAZI Germany or the Soviet Union. The reason for this was that Mussolini and his Fascists while dominating Italywere never the sole power center in the country.
The Italian family was never penetrated to the extent that the NAZIs suceeded in Germany, effectively using the Hitler Youth. In addition the Church continued to be a influential factor in Italian life and an institution that the Fascists never were able to dominate. Other instititions such as the army, diplomatic corps and the universities were never the total control of the Party. [Bosworth]
Another significant and distinctive development of Italian Fascism was the creation by
the government of what it called the corporative state. In 1926 the government
announced a scheme for instituting economic justice for workers and employers.
Workers were organized into syndicates on the basis oflocal trades and occupations;
all other forms of labor organization were prohibited. Membership in the syndicates
was voluntary, but the syndicates were made the representatives: of all workers in a
trade; and nonmembers were also required to pay dues to the syndicates. Syndicate
officials were appointed by, the government and had to be members of the Fascist
Party. Employers were grouped into parallel syndicates. Local syndicates oil workers
and employers were organized into parallel national federations. These, in tun, were
grouped into separate worker and employer confederations for broad segments of the
economy of Italy, defined by the government, such as industry, agriculture, comment
and credit and insurance. In addition, provision was made for a single confederation
for professional persons and artists, which included both employers and employees.
A law promulgated in February, 1934, established the Corporations which comprised a part of the apparatus of state. They consisted of government-appointed representatives of employers, workers, the government, and the Fascist Party, the last-named acting in the capacity of representatives also of the public. One Corporation was formed for each of the twenty-two major subdivisions of the national economy as stipulated by law. The Corporations were vested with authority to "enact rules for the collective regulation of economic relations and the unitary discipline of national production". They were also empowered to mediate labor disputes and fix prices for goods and services. The Ministry of Corporations of the national government served as the secretariat of each of the twenty-two Corporations, and the minister of Corporations was the ex-officio chairman of all of them all. Formation of the Corporations resulted from the efforts of the Fascist government to cope with the serious effects on Italy of the world-wide economic depression of the 1930s. It represented, in substance, an effort to arrest declines in capital investment, foreign trade, national income, profit, and government revenue, through the systematic concentration of industry and finance, and increased government control of economy. Later, the concentration of industry and government control of economy were applied to an even peater extent to meet the extraordinary problems imposed on Italy by the country's entry into World War II.
Mussolini never dared confront the Church as Hitler did, a major factor in preventing the excesses of the NAZIs. In fact a key factor in the development of Italian; Fascism included a reversal of its early anti-clerical attitude. When it was struggling for power, Fascism had competed with the Catholic Church for influence over the youth of the nation, and assailed workers in Catholic-led trade unions. After Fascism was firmly in power it reversed its policy with the aim of winning the support of the Catholic Church. This reversal culminated in the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between the Vatican and the Fascist government. By the terms of that treaty Fascism ceded a measure of its control over various spheres of Italian life; and, as a result, a large number of church
dignitaries supported the regime. This was important, because unlike Germany and Russia there was a independent organization with considerable influence--although there was considerable support for the Fascists within the Church.
Mandariory youth groups are another feature of totalitarian regimes. Young people get most of their ideas from their parents and latter school. After taking control of the state, a totalitarian party can gain control of the educational system. Controling the parents and how they think is another matter. So another feature of Fascism and other totalitarians is a youth group. Not only do they crerate a party youth group, which becomes in effect a state youth group, but they close down all other youth groups so that the party line can be reinforced. And unlike Scouting, the parents are not given a role to play in the youth group. For Mussolini's Fascists, the youth hroup was the Balilla. And ionce in th Balilla the boys are given a heavy doe of ultra-nationalism and militarism and the virtues of the leader are taught in an almost religious fashion.
Bosworth, Richard. Mussolini's Italy : Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945 (2006).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Italian Fascism page]
[Return to Main totalitarian page]
[Return to Main Fascism page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]