Evaluate the Successes and Failures of Mussolini’s Domestic Policies
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By 1925, Mussolini had achieved a totalitarian regime, but now he needed to spread fascism into every area of life for the Italians, “everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State”. As a Dictator with clear aims, Mussolini tried to replace all past policies with new ones which would help to achieve his fascist ideologies; these included the various economic “Battles” and the establishment of the Corporate State as well as policies which would control education, religion, women and youth. The “Battles” in particular were very much publicised and always depicted as a great success in the media, yet in reality Mussolini was far from achieving all of his aims and he did not succeed in obtaining total control over every aspect of Italian life.
One of Mussolini’s main objectives was to build a strong foreign and colonial policy so as to build an Empire to rival that of Ancient Rome; for this, a strong economy was vital therefore he needed to employ new policies such as the Corporate State. The Corporate State involved the formation of two syndicates for each profession – one for workers and one for employers – they would meet separately and together to agree on wages, hours and conditions of work as well as many other issues. In addition, the Vidoni Palace act of 1925 banned trade unions which made it much more difficult for workers to oppose their employers. Mussolini made it seem as though people had some control by forming the two syndicates, however each syndicate was controlled by a member of the Fascist party who, were all controlled by the Ministry of Corporations, of which Mussolini was the Minister. The Rocco Law of 1926 banned strikes and further confirmed the strong position of Fascist syndicates. In many ways, the establishment of the Corporate State was a success for Mussolini as it was referred to as the “true child of Mussolini” and it cleverly facilitated the complete control over employers and workers through the ban of trade unions and strikes. Despite this, in reality the whole system turned into a vast bureaucracy with very little genuine power, “it never existed at all except on paper” as Mussolini used it primarily for propaganda purposes.
Furthermore, Mussolini also implemented three “Battles” in relation to the economy and agriculture; he believed that success in these “Battles” was necessary in order to obtain a stable Italy and gain support as well as respect for his Fascist regime and authority. The first was the Battle for the Lira, this was provoked by the poor value of the Italian currency in 1927 – 150 lire to 1 pound – Mussolini aimed to fix the lira at 90 to 1 pound. This would reduce inflation, which was harming the middle-classes, and it would provide the image of Fascism bringing economic stability to Italy. In order to do so, the banks kept a tight control of the money supply and so the economy deflated to increase the value of the lira. Mussolini did achieve this aim in 1927; therefore it demonstrated the authority of the regime and heavy industries that were dependent upon imports benefitted greatly from the cheap, tariff-free imports which provided profits. However, the Battle for the Lira also harmed the economy in the exports sector as Italian goods were much more expensive abroad which caused serious deflation, the government had to impose a 20% cut on wages.
When the government was forced to devalue the Lira in 1936, it was made clear that the policy had failed and it completely undermined the authority of Mussolini; as Tannenbaum said “economically, Fascism was a failure”. The second of Mussolini’s objectives was the Battle for Autarky (self-sufficiency), in the words of Mussolini himself, “Italy can and must attain the maximum economic independence for peace and war.” The main way in which Mussolini fought to achieve this was through the Battle for Grain; at the same time as helping Italy become self-sufficient in case of war, he was increasing his personal power. His key aim for this “Battle” was to boost grain production so as to free Italy “from the slavery of foreign bread”, but also to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Italy was a major power.
To encourage production of grain, Mussolini increased the high tariffs on imported grains in 1925 and gave grants to farmers to buy machinery. The Battle for Grain was very successful as Italy became almost self-sufficient in cereals by 1940, this benefitted Italian grain producers as the average harvest rose from 5.5 million tonnes per year to over 7 million tonnes only ten years later and grain imports fell by 75% between 1925 and 1935. Yet this success in grain came at a huge expense of the rest of Italian agriculture and economy and in particular, the consumers – the cost of grain and bread in Italy increased as a result of government taxes; in addition the traditional exports of wine and olive oil declined. Once again, the failures had outweighed the successes of Mussolini’s economic policies.
Moreover, one of the key aspects of Mussolini’s domestic policies was the education of youth, “the whole school must educate youth to understand Fascism”. In order to create this new generation of Fascists, Mussolini aimed to make teachers loyal to the regime so they were able to indoctrinate ideology into students. The fascitisation of education was put into practice mostly in the 1930s, the government wrote the curriculum and introduced a standard textbook for each year group called the “libro unico”. By 1933, it was compulsory for all teachers to be members of the Fascist party and the school system was centralised, giving more power to the government. Schools were also heavily promoting the cult of Mussolini: his portrait in every classroom, students were given a notebook with Mussolini on the front cover and a free copy of “Life of Mussolini”; thus a strong sense of patriotism was encouraged in the youth. In 1926, historical texts and all dialects were banned and in 1935 Military education was introduced into secondary schools to teach them about weapons and tactics.
Young Italians were continually indoctrinated with patriotism, they were given lessons in Fascist culture and Anti-Semitism began being taught in school by 1938. One of the successes is that through this emphasis that was put on education, the overall illiteracy of Italy fell from 27% in 1921 to 17% in 1936, however this is counteracted by the fact that within the first 4 years, attendance in schools dropped by 100,000 students. Additionally, the youth groups created by the State were also intended to indoctrinate youth from a young age, alongside education, and occupy their leisure time; they were made compulsory in 1935 but before this there was only 60% membership in the North of Italy. Overall, the Fascist regime was successful in penetrating the educational side of Italy through the implementation of these policies, especially the younger children in primary schools, however they were only superficially successful concerning the youth in secondary schools and higher education as the students accepted Fascism but were not necessarily committed enthusiasts.
Perhaps the domestic policy which was most successful in initially gaining support for Mussolini was the religious policy. Although Mussolini was originally anti-clerical he signed the concordat with the Vatican Church in 1929, it ended the conflict between the Church and the State that went back to 1860; this was essential in winning over many of Mussolini’s supporters. In this case, Mussolini should be commended for taking into account the popular opinion of the people and realising how valuable the attitude of the Church was towards Fascism; this gained him respect around the world as well as in Italy. Consequently, the Church is compensated for the land they had lost and the crucifix was reintroduced into school, in addition Catholic priests were allowed back into schools and clerical salaries increased. The religious policies were most successful because they gave Mussolini international prestige, especially in Catholic countries, and it brought 75 years of conflict to an end. “The pacts were a triumph for the Duce. The cost was negligible, the benefits huge”, it may also be argued that the price was too high for Mussolini because the Pope was never truly under his control.
In conclusion, most of Mussolini’s domestic policies were somewhat successful and helped to consolidate his power, however they did not all benefit the people of Italy. The concordat strengthened Mussolini’s position internationally and helped him to gain a broader powerbase; however the three battles were mostly failures as they did not consider the consequences, especially seen with the Battle for Grain and the Lira. In addition, there was no common goal and each policy was directed differently, which resulted in each policy becoming superficially successful but not being deep rooted into Italians.