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From 1925 to 1940, Mussolini’s constant desire was to perform a central role within the fascist movement and within the country. In order to do this Mussolini had to control the Italian population, he used many methods to do this including Propaganda and indoctrination which included creating a cult of Il Duce and the use of mass media and if those techniques failed there was also the threat of violence and the fear of repression to control potential opponents. Overall it is clear that propaganda and indoctrination were the most significant methods used however when investigating the significance we have to consider each of the methods of control in relation to their contemporary significance as well as considering its importance as a cause of subsequent changes, how many and who it affected.
Indoctrination was one of the main features of consent and control in Mussolini’s Italy. The regime prioritised the indoctrination of young people believing it was essential to gain the ongoing support and ‘building a secure foundation for the future’.
In schools, the main changes did not take place until 1929 when the previous minister of education was removed and it became more about indoctrination and obedience with changes ordered including: that a portrait of Mussolini was to be hung in every classroom, wall posters were put up emphasising fascist achievements, every school day was to begin with fascist slogans, and only approved textbooks could be used. There was also an increased emphasis on sports and religion in answer to the Lateran pacts and teachers were forced to take an oath of loyalty although many did so on the grounds that it was just a formality and showed varying degrees of enthusiasm for the ideas they were asked to teach, doing so in order to keep their jobs.
In universities, indoctrination was much less of a focus as it was thought that by the time students reached university they would already have been indoctrinated with fascist principles and beliefs; however despite this, students were expected to join the University Fascist Youth although once again many did so either as a formality or for career advantages as joining the organisation enabled exemption from military service, enhanced career prospects, half price admission to entertainment and the use of sports facilities. University staff were also required to show their loyalty however this was a much bigger problem as the professors and lecturers were harder to dismiss and many did not want to take the oath or join the PNF and only did so on the grounds of a ‘formality’. In this respect indoctrination was unsuccessful as although teachers carried out the requirements they didn’t really follow the beliefs of the regime which is what the policy of indoctrination was aiming to do. It is also difficult to assess how successful the policy of indoctrination was with children, children could have received very different messages at home and it is likely that they could sense a lack of enthusiasm with teachers and there is no evidence to suggest that the messages the fascist government wanted to be absorbed were understood. This indicates that it was not very significant at the time and it didn’t produce a nation of stoutly patriotic fascist children who were entirely loyal to the regime. Although it is difficult to assess how successful the policy was at the time, with many teachers etc perhaps being forced to take their oath and children perhaps receiving different messages at home, it is clear that it had some successes as Mussolini received little opposition to the one sided views, exaggerating Italy’s glory, likely because it was what Italians wanted to hear even if they knew it wasn’t true.
Several organisations were also set up so that indoctrination could continue outside of schools and universities. For children and teenagers the ONB was set up in 1926 in which children were continuously exposed to fascist propaganda as well as being encouraged to take part in a wide range of activities including sports, gymnastics, attendance at summer camps and rallies and militaristic drills and parades. These activities encouraged children to actively carry out the ideal fascist lifestyle and the emphasis on sport aimed to create a biologically fit Italian race. Members had to wear a uniform, swear an oath of loyalty and learn a special creed. For adults, the OND was set up which introduced adult leisure programmes and facilities as well as additional welfare activities. The OND aimed to win the masses over to fascism by becoming involved in their leisure time as well as their working lives, pastimes were meant to fit in with Italian heritage and past triumphs. By the mid-1930’s every town had its own Dopolavoro clubhouse and in many towns and villages social life was focused upon these clubhouses. The OND also allowed fascists to manipulate public opinion and gain further support for the regime because message was more subtle. In many ways the setting up of the OND was very significant, it was the first time that such activities had been encouraged or subsidised by politicians leading the OND to become one of the most successful and popular policies introduced by the Fascists and the fact that the clubhouses became so important on a local level and reached out to so many people showed its significance at the time. In terms of results some historians have come to question the extent to which it actually encouraged active fascism which was its real aim and in this respect the ONB seemingly had little significance as despite the high membership many historians believe that older children in particular paid lip service to the organisation and parents allowed their children to join only because they feared for their children’s careers or social integration. The ONB also faced opposition from rival organisations run by the Catholic Church which was significant in Mussolini’s eyes as it stopped him from having total control or becoming the true dictator he wanted to be. However overall the programme meant that every citizen was receiving the propaganda, not just children and the vast number of people alone this indoctrination reached, even if it wasn’t entirely successful makes it significant.
Another key method of control in Fascist Italy was the use of propaganda in order to ensure that the population only received the messages the regime wanted. Propaganda affected many areas of life including cinema, where they showed newsreels before films highlighting fascist victories, radio where Mussolini’s speeches were broadcasted and often played in public places, art where a ‘fascist style’ was created and architecture with the construction of vast and imposing buildings demonstrating fascist strength and dynamism. Alongside propaganda censorship was used to repress anti-fascist messages with newspapers and radio stations coming under increasing pressure to report only favourable events and opinions and failure to do so resulting in serious consequences for the offenders. Censorship was significant as at the time it resulted in the closing down of newspapers and the loss of jobs however this was a relatively small number affected and the majority managed to keep their newspapers, broadcasts etc. as long as they didn’t criticise the regime, despite this the Italian press was not fully coordinated by the government and the catholic newspaper remained open which although did not always report in accordance with fascist ideologies was careful not to openly criticise indicating that the public feared the consequences of not complying. A key part of propaganda was that of ‘the cult of Il Duce’ which aimed to present Mussolini as an ideal infallible leader who had saved Italy from the threat of socialism and economic backwardness. Its purpose was to increase Mussolini’s popularity and ensure the support of the population, propaganda pictures were used to show him in poses as a wrestler, swimmer etc. and the media represented him as a superhuman figure and a man of action and energy. It is difficult to judge the significance of the use of propaganda as it is hard to tell how many people followed the messages however there were some significant consequences including that the cult of Il Duce convinced many Italians that there was no realistic political alternative to Mussolini and the Fascists and focused on the worship of one leader as opposed to leadership that could sustain itself after Mussolini either died or could no longer carry on. It was also difficult for Mussolini to sustain the image of an active and dynamic leader as is seen in the decision to join World War 2, as despite not really being prepared for war Italy joined and this was partly due to the fact that Mussolini was obliged to fulfil his ideology of war and action and goes to show how much of an influence propaganda had on Italian culture.
However propaganda and indoctrination weren’t the only ways in which Mussolini sought to preside over the Italian population and another key factor was the use of repression and terror. Although violence decreased after Mussolini had established a fascist dictatorship, the reality of precious Fascist violence helped to create a climate of fear. Estimates vary about how many were killed but it is thought around 400, which although small in comparison to other European dictatorships was to some extent significant at the time as the country had not recently been under a dictatorship and also this was only one of the ways used to control the population. The police and local government had extensive powers, in November 1926 a Public Security Decree gave the government-appointed provincial prefects the power to place under police supervision anyone who was perceived as a political threat. A law for the Defence of the State also introduced Special Tribunals to try anyone who was accused of political crimes. The secret police, the OVRA, were very active and carried out many searched and investigation, they had a fearsome reputation which was promoted by the regime through propaganda to increase fascist powers, ,by 1939 the OVRA had collected dossiers on 130,000 suspects although only 4000 people were arrested and sent to prison showing their ineffectiveness. The militia was also a key aspect and was used to intimidate political opponents and to beat up those who were not cooperating and seize property. Prisons were set up in remote areas and approximately 5000 people were kept as prisoners during the regime and only 10 were sentenced to death. Anti-Semitic decrees were also not embraced to the same extent as other European countries and in 1937 they even allowed 3000 German Jews to enter the country as refugees’ from the Nazi regime, this approach did suddenly change in 1938 and freedoms and living standards of Jews did decline. Once Mussolini was reinstated by the Nazis a much tougher approach was adopted however this was evidently under the instruction of Hitler. Overall repression and terror was not as significant as other methods as despite Mussolini’s wide legal powers and repressive institutions these were not used effectively and as seen in the figures affected surprisingly small numbers, the main method of Italian fascist adopted was to encourage conformity through propaganda, incentives and manipulation rather than relying on systematic repression and terror although elements of this were used in order to further control.
To conclude it is clear that in the main propaganda and indoctrination were the most significant methods used to control the Italian population. Although it is difficult to measure the extent to which they were successful, the use of these methods affected the whole population and were clearly what Mussolini and the fascist government put most of their time into. In fact many historians claim that Mussolini got so involved in creating his own image and the cult of Il Duce that he viewed this as more important than foreign or domestic policy. In terms of results it is evident that most Italians conformed to the regime through the numbers that joined organisations such as the PNF. Alongside this repression and terror were used however much of the climate of fear came about as a result of propaganda and the actual powers put in place were actual not used effectively for example only 10 Italians were sentenced to death which is an extremely small number in comparison to other dictatorships at the time.
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