The Fascist consolidation & exercise of power 1922-43

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The Fascist consolidation of power, 1922-26

Mussolini's early actions as prime minister

  • Mussolini persued a 'compromise and coercion' strategy to consolidate his power
  • a coalition with mainly liberal or PPI ministers reflected reality and reassured conservative Italians
  • made concessions to key institutions & groups e.g. Catholic Church, industrialists & nationalists
  • Mussolini strengthened his position by making himself interior minister and foreign minister
  • November 1922 - used threats and assurances to obtain emergency decree powers (for 12 months) from the Chamber by 306 votes to 116 - Senate also gave its approval
  • began to exert greater personal authority over the Fascist Party too:
  • December 1922 - established Fascist Grand Council - 22 prominent party members - PNF's senior body & key policy-making forum - important step towards dictatorship
  • controlled its membership & agenda - Mussolini could use the Grand Council to secure party approval for his major initiatives and control Fascist policy 
  • early 1923 - squads legalised & became 'Voluntary Fascist Militia for National Security' (MVSN)
  • bound by an oath of loyalty to Mussolini, the MVSN functioned as a state-funded full-time private army of 30,000 men
  • provided the Duce with a means of channelling the activism of PNF intransigents & reducing the influence of the provicial Fascist leaders 
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The Acerbo Law, 1923

  • June 1923 - Giacomo Acerbo introduced a bill to permit the party that obtained the most votes in a general election to take two-thirds of the seats in the Chamber, provided it received 25% of the votes cast - other parties would share remaining seats on a proportional basis
  • Acerbo's reform - designed to secure a Fascist parliamentary majority 
  • July 1923 - Chamber passed the Acerbo bill by 235 votes to 139
  • menacing presence of Blackshirts during debate affected outcome-but result not simply due to intimidation
  • most deputies believed that Mussolini was committed to parliamentary gov and 'normalisation'
  • other MPS either applauded the gov's left-wing line or saw electoral reform as the way to avoid weak coalition ministries
  • Mussolini held a general election under the Acerbo system in April 1924
  • the PNF formed an electoral alliance with right-wing liberals including Salandra, and received support from Giolitti's faction
  • 2/3rds turnout (7.6 million Italians) - Fascist bloc obtains 65% of the vote - 374/ the 535 seats
  • this resounding victory reflected Mussolini's growing popularity but widespread Blackshirt violence and ballot rigging also influenced the result
  • nevertheless, despite Fascist intimidation, the opposition parties - including the PSI, PSU, PCI and the PPI - still received 2.5 million votes overall
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The Matteotti Crisis 1924

  • when parliament reconvened, opposition deputies denounced the Fascist violence and ballot rigging at the recent election 
  • Mussolini's most outspoken critic was the anti-Fascist PSU MP, Giacomo Matteotti
  • 30th May 1924 - Matteotti condemned Blackshirt illegality at the polls
  • 11 days later - Fascists led by Amerigo Dumini abducted and killed Matteotti
  • body was discovered outside Rome in August
  • Dumini, an assistant prime minister's press secretary, Cesare Rossi - part of Mussolini's entourage & ran his secret hit squad, the Cheka
  • even if he had not ordered the killing, Mussolini was politically and morally responsibile for the death of Matteotti
  • had established the Cheka and had previously ordered attacks on opponents
  • shortly before the murder, Mussolini had also expressed his loathing of Matteotti and this would have encouraged the PNF radicals to act
  • Matteotti's death caused widespread anger and dismay in Italy 
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The Matteotti Crisis 1924

  • Mussolini's political survival depended on the response of the establishment, the parliamentary opposition and the PNF intransigents
  • the establishment generally overlook the Matteotti affair because they saw no acceptable alternative to Mussolini
  • Victor Emmanuel feared that Mussolini's dismissal, soon after securing a parliamentary majority, would strengthen the revolutionary Left and trigger a civil war
  • the Senate, a crucial barometer of elite opinion, endorsed ongoing government 'pacification' measures by 225 votes to 21 in late June
  • senior army officers registered their support by donating over 100,000 surplus rifles to the MVSN and the Vatican journal Osservatore Romano also backed Mussolini
  • futhermore, most industrialists accepted politics was often a brutal business and preferred to focus on their profits 
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The Matteotti Crisis 1924

  • Mussolini prudently made concessions and reshuffled his government to cement establishment support
  • he publically deplored Matteotti's murder, sacked several leading Fascists and brought in people acceptable to the elite, notably the nationalist journalist Luigi Federzoni, who became minister of the interior
  • The Cheka was dissolved and the militia had to swear allegiance to the king
  • four prominent Fascists - Dumini, Rossi, Filippelli & Giovanni Marinelli - arrested in connection with Mattaeotti's death 
  • in protest at the murder, opposition deputies (mainly Socialists, Communists and PPI dissidents) abandoned the Chamber and set up their own assembly
  • the PNF also faced a hostile press campaign 
  • yet the parliamentary opposition's protest strenghtened Mussolini too 
  • their walk-out merely turned the Chamber into a compliant pro-government body and provided Victor Emmanuel with an excuse to do nothing
  • in any case, divisions soon resurfaced between Socialists, Communists, opposition liberals and Catholics, which made a united anti-fascist front impossible
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The Matteotti Crisis 1924

  • Matteotti's murder also brought the tensions between the PNF leader and the intrandsigents to a head
  • party radicals resented government 'normalisation', the anti-fascist press campaign and the appointment of non-Fascist ministers
  • they wanted to start the next phase of the revolution
  • 31st December 1924 - 10,000 armed Blackshirts rioted in Florence, destroying opposition party headquarters and newspaper offices
  • to reinforce the point, 33 militia leaders confronted Mussolini and demanded an immediate fascist revolution
  • he now faced a major crisis:
  • the intransigents were on the verge of rebellion but an actual fascist rising would probably alienate the king and prompt military action against the PNF
  • forced into a corner, Mussolini decided to pre-empt the radicals by introducing his own 'second wave' - and seizing power
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Creating the Fascist dictatorship

  • 3rd January 1925 - crucial speech to Chamber - Mussolini posed as the responsible statesman
  • denying any direct involvement in Matteotti's death, he emphasised his government's commitment to 'normalisation' and legal methods
  • nevertheless, he acccepted sole 'polical, moral and historical responsibility for all that has hapened' and declared that 'if fascism has been a criminal association, then i am the chief of this criminal association'
  • he railed against the opposition for leaving parliament and condemned the press compaign against the government
  • Italy, he concluded, required a stronger regime to deal with political opponents and remove the need to unleash the fascist squads
  • this skilful speech exctricated Mussolini from a difficult position
  • Fascist radicals, enoucraged by his defence of fascism, assumed that, in future, the government would listen to their views
  • most of the establishment were reassured too and continued to back Mussolini
  • they were relieved that the squads would not be used and that state agencies such as the police and the prefects would restore law and order
  • by taking the initiative, Mussolini - now able to take firm action against political opposition
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Creating the Fascist dictatorship 1925-26

  • after making this speech, Mussolini closed down some 44 'suspect' organisations, confiscated all illegally held weapons and had about 100 'subversives' arrested
  • the remaining non-fascist ministers resigned and Liberal Italy's elder statesmen - Giolitti, Orlando and Salandra - joined the parliamentary opposition
  • over the next 2 years, Mussolini created a personal dictatorship which developed in a piecemean and improvised way
  • several factors enabled the PNF leader to establish one-man rule:
  • first, by July 1925, the government was exclusively Fascist and could now pursue its objectives with fewer internal contraints
  • second, the Fascist-dominated Chamber (which had been made more manageable by the walk-out of opposition deputies) compliantly rubber-stamped the repressive decrees that built Mussolini's auuthoritarian system
  • third, the government tightened press censorship immediately after the 3rd January speech to deprive the anti-fascist parties of their main political weapon
  • finally, four unsuccessful assassination attempts on Mussolini between November 1925 and October 1926 alarmed the king and ordinary Italians, and were used as a pretext to entrench Mussolini's power, undermine opponents and increase repression 
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Creating the Fascist dictatorship 1925-26

  • 3 months following the first attempt - November 1925 - several draconian laws were passed which banned secret organisations, made 'anti-government' conduct by public employees a sackable offence and established an official regester of approved journalists
  • measure arimed at 10,000 anti-fascist exiles, permitted authorities to cancel the citizenship and confiscate the property of any Italian living abroad who 'damaged Italian interests'
  • 2 constitutional amendments also reinforced Mussolini's position
  • first - December 1925 - changed his official title to Head of the Government and Duce, and abolished parliament's right to remove the prime minister with a no confidence vote
  • second - January 1926 - allowed the head of the government to make law by decree
  • Mussolini could now circumvent parliament altogether
  • other repressive measures followed
  • political organisations and publications found guilt of 'actions against the regime' were banned, which effectively established a one-party state with a Fascist controlled press 
  • capital punishment was introduced for the attempted assassination of the royal family and the head of the government 
  • the Chamber also excluded the walk-out deputies permanently and banned the PCI
  • widely criticised for failing to protect the Duce, the interior minister, Federzoni, was removed too 
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Fascism and education

  • once in power, Mussolini's government launched various initiatives and organisations to secure popular support for Fascist rule
  • the regime's growing control of schools and universities was an important aspect of this drive to instil fascist values
  • December 1925 - Mussolini instructed schools to educate young Italians to live according to the fascist revolution
  • his directive was followed by an official purge of 'politically incompatible' teachers
  • from 1929, primary and secondary school teachers had to take an oath of loyalty to the regime and, by 1933, PNF membership was a condition of employment
  • a year later, primary school staff were ordered to wear Blackshirt uniforms in the classroom
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Fascism and education

  • school curriculum became more ideological from the mid 1920s
  • after banning almost 1/3 of the history books used in schools in 1926, the government introduced a single primary textbook in 1928 covering all subjects in an approved manner to encourage conformity
  • lessons increasinly celebrated the Duce, militarism and imperialism
  • school curriculum was adapted to reflect the regime's shifting priorities
  • religous instruction was made compolsory in all secondary schools after Mussolini's 1929 Concordat with the Vatican & as the fascist system became overtly racist in the late 1930s, primary textbooks emphasised Italy's 'civilising mission'
  • 1939 - Guiseppe Bottai - education minister - introduced a school charter - designed to create the new 'fascist man'
  • due to the outbreak of the Second World War, however, little came of Bottai's plan
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Fascism and education 

  • even though an increasing number of young Italians were educated under the Fascist regime, their efforts to influence schools pupils were only partially successful
  • many teachers who survived the purge of the profession remained committed to other political beliefs
  • they simply accommodated themselves to the regime to safequard their own interests
  • regular ministerial orders and instructions caused much resentment among staff in Italian schools and, as a result, official directives were often carried out with little enthusiasm in the classroom
  • in rural communities, inadequate teaching resources coupled with high levels of absenteeism and illiteracy due to children undertaking agricultural work, particularly at harvest time, also limited the impact of Fascist educational polocy
  • over 1/5th of brides in southern Italy in 1936 could not sign the marriage register 
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Fascism and Education

  • during 1930s - governments focused on the universities as well
  • 1930 - regime required all rectors and deans have been PNF members for at least 5 years and, in 1931, university profressors were obliged to take an oath of loyalty to the Fascist state 
  • just 11/1250 academics declined
  • many took the oath to prevent Fascist appointees taking over university posts but the small number of refusals gave Mussolini a propaganda coup
  • 1933 - all new professors had to be party members
  • generally speaking though, the universities were not harassed provided they did not engage in anti-Fascists political activity
  • by the late 1930s - many undergraduatesfavourably disposed to the regime - had been indoctrinated to some extent by the school system and the Fascist Youth organisation
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Fascism and Youth 

  • the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) - Fascist youth movement - helped to inculcate fascist values
  • slogan: 'Believe, Obey, Fight'
  • established in 1926 by the Ministry of Education to turn young Italians aged between 6 and 18 into fascists
  • within a year, it had 1,236,000 members 
  • Batallia youth clubs offered sport, summer camps & pre-military training
  • Italian youths were probably more attracted by the facilities than the propaganda message but the Batallia certainly boosted the regime
  • once under party control in 1937, it was renamed GIL and membership bceame compulsory two years later
  • at that point, GIL had almost 7.9 million members
  • The GUF was a similar organisation for university students which ran popular athletic and debating competeitions
  • most joined for social or career reasons and the regime tolerated a certain amount of dissent and criticism within the GUF because it was created to help nurture and select the next generation of the Fascist elite
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

The Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro

  • Fascist organisation which did most to foster public identification with the regime
  • national network of subsidised Fascist leisure clubs for public - and private - sector workers
  • formed in 1925 and expanded under party control from 1927
  • provided sport, music, films, plaus, dancing, organised holidays & excursions to the coast 
  • provided welfare for poor families
  • at its height, the Dopolavoro ran over 11,000 sports clubs and by 1935 controlled 771 cinemas, 2066 theatre companies, 2130 orchestras and 6427 libraries
  • although membership was not compulsory, it became the largest and most active adult organisation
  • 1939 - some 4 million Italians belonged to the OND
  • manual and non-manual workers joined but they tended to stick with their own class when participating in OND activities
  • with its emphasis on leisure activities rather than overt indoctrination, the Dopolavoro was a genuinely popular innovation which encouraged general acceptance of fascism
  • the function and informal class segregation of the OND, however, meant it could neither instil fascism's militaristic values nor foster a real sense of national community
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

The Cult of the Duce

  • Mussolini was a brilliant tactician and opportunist who understood better than his rivals how Italian politics had changed after the First World War
  • his skill at political manoevering was partly due to a lack of firmly held ehtical and ideological beliefs
  • consequently, he used institutions and indivuals for as long as they seved his interests
  • Mussolini's short-term political shrewdness was matched by an ability to communicate effectively through public speeches and the newspapers
  • throughout his politcal career, however, he remained an insecure and impressionable man who suffered from an inferiority complex
  • his outward displays of self-confidence and assertivenes were undoubtedly a form of compensation for his inner sense of inadequacy
  • Mussolini the man could never live up to the propaganda image of the Duce 
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

The cult of the Duce

  • at the centre of the regime's efforts to generate popular support was the cult of the Duce which depicted Mussolini as Italy's saviour
  • posters, films, newspapers, biographies and official statements all conveyed an image of super-human intellectual, physical and sporting abilities
  • at its peak in the 1930s, duscismo accorded Mussolini semi-divine status and created the myth of the omnipotent and omniscient leader
  • his supposed infallibility led to the slogan 'Mussolini is always right', which became a mantra for the regime
  • all this fed the Duce's vanity but it was politically useful too
  • the cult of the leader elevated him above, and set him apart from, the Fascist system
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

The cult of the Duce 

  • brought Mussolini two benefits:
  • his personal prestige helped to sustain the regime 
  • any problems could be blamed on other Fascists or the government, not him
  • Duscismo became the main unifying force in Fascist Italy, because Mussolini's personal popularity (which dipped only briefly in the early 1930s due to the economic downturn and disagreements with the pope) generally remained very high until the second world war 
  • outwardly at least, he came almost to accept the cult as proof of his political genius and indispensability
  • he even had to be consulted about the date when Rome's traffic police could switch to their summer uniforms!
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Control of the press 

  • journalist and editor - Mussolini knew that a Fascist-controlled press could mobilise public support for the regime 
  • by 1926, all opposition newspapers had been closed down and other publications, either through conviction or coercion, had decided to toe the Fascist line
  • the dictatorship also ran its own official news agency and only government-registered journalists were allowed to write
  • newspapers were expected to give minimal coverage to sensitive topics such as crime and unemployment
  • fines were imposed for non-compliance, though most editors censored their own publications
  • Mussolini also contacted editors and newspaper owners privately to ensure that the 'right' events were reported in the appropriate way
  • from 1934 - the regime tightened press instructions about what to cover and how to depict the dictator 
  • three years later, a Ministry of Popular Culture assumed control of the newspapers and other media, including radio and the cinema, in a continuing drive to convert the masses to fascism
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Control of the press

  • yet the state's attempts to use the press as a propaganda outlet were not that successful 
  • fascists newspapers accounted for just 10% of total circulation and some local Fascist publications openly criticised the regime for its lack of radicalism
  • other journals found ways of discussing controversal topics such as the pros and cons of a settlement with the papacy in 1929
  • it also proved impossible to stamp out the underground anti-fascist press
  • Italians had access to other sources of information as well, namely the foreign media (newspapers and radio programmes) and tourists
  • the Fascist press campaign was further hindered by the fact that sections of the population remained functionally illiterate 
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Winning hearts and minds for the Fascist regime

Radio and Cinema

  •   After 1924, the regime also used the expanding state-controlled radio network to put iTs political message across through a diet of music, drama, official broadcasts and live speeches from Mussolini
  • By 1938 about 1 million Italians   possessed a radio, which meant that about 5 million listened to a privately owned set
  •  Many more listened in public, partly because the government supplied schools with radios and the OND held group ‘listening’ meeting
  •  These initiatives helped the Fascists target rural areas and the illiterate
  • To some extent, cinema – the most popular form of entertainment in Italy in the 1930s – served the same purpose
  •   From 1924 a government agency, Luce produced documentaries and newsreels with some political content which, by law, had to be shown to audiences before the main film
  •   Imported and Italian films were censored by the state, which set out strict guidelines on style and content
  •  A few Italian feature films, including Luciano Serra praised fascism and its achievements
  • Most films, however, were excapist or historical dramas, and the overwhelming majority of Ialian cinema-goes preferred them to explicit Fascist propaganda
  •  In 1938, US films accounted for about 75% of Italian cinema ticket sales
  • The most popular feature was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Thus, although Mussolini saw the cinema as ‘the strongest weapon’, it had a limited propaganda impact on the Italian population 
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Repression and Terror under the fascist regime

The OVRA

  • Repression and terror, of course, were also key elements of the regime and tightened Mussolini’s grip on power
  • November 1926 – a new secret police force, OVRA, was created under Arturo Bocchini, who declared that ascism was to exert ‘a constant but not too conspicuous oppression’
  •  Initially, OVRA was set up to investigate and combat anti-fascist activity but increasingly gathered information, and reported, on all aspects of Italian life
  • The organisation compiled files on 130,000 potential ‘subversives’, established a network of some 100,000 informants and, by 1930, organised some 20,000 raids each week
  • However, with only a relatively small full-time staff (around 700 agents in the 1930s), and run by career officials rather than Fascist ideologues, Mussolini’s secret police never rivalled Hitler’s Gestapo of Stalin’s NKVD for repression
  • OVRA detained some 6000 political opponents (mainly communists or membvers of the non-party andti-fascist revolutionary movement, Justice and Liberty) between 1930 and 1934 - an average of 125 each month 0 but few of them ended up in gaol
  • on Mussolini's orders, OVRA even spied on sior Fascists Balbo and Farinacci, who found out that they had been palced under surveillance - both men complained but the Duce ignored their protests
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Repression and Terror under the fascist regime

The special tribunal and Confino

  • a 'Special Tribunal for the Defence of the State', operating under martial law, was also introduced in November 1926 to tackle serious political dissent
  • 1927-43, the Tribunal tried some 21,000 people and imposed gael terms averaging 5 years in 5100 cases
  • the most prominent victim was the Communist leader Antonio Gramsci, who was given a 20 year prison sentence
  • also condembed 49 people to death
  • during the 1930s, the Special Tribunal imprisoned up to 365 anti-fascists annually
  • from later 1926, political prisoners could also be sent into internal exile (confino) in remote provinces or penal colonies located on islands off the mainland, such as Lipari
  • some Italians were banished in this way for five years simply because the authorities suspected that they were contemplating action against the regime
  • confino was spartan, and sometimes brutal, but internal exiles were not compelled to wor, recieved a 10 lire daily allowance and could take their families with them
  • by 1943, about 14,000 people had been 'confirmed' at some stage under Fascist rule
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Repression and Terror under the fascist regime

The special tribunal and confino

  • many prominents opponents fled abroad, either to avoid Blackshirt persecution or to protest against the regime
  • these exiles included the ex-prime minister Nitti, the socialist leader Filippo Turati and the PPI leader Luigi Sturzo
  • Mussolini denounced those who left Italy as 'outsiders' and Fascist agents tracked down a number of them, such as the Rosselli brothers, and murdered them
  • evidence of Fascist repression was everywhere
  • the press and parliament were essentially powerless, telephone calls and the post were monitored, and Italian society was riddled with police informers
  • at local level, petty-minded and soemtimes vicious fascist officials rules through intimidation and used their positions to settle personal and politcal scores
  • nevertheless, these repressive eatures did not stifle traditional forms of protest such as land occupations, food price riots and strikes over pay and conditions
  • anti-fascist humour and graffiti were also widespread
  • most Italians adopted afascismo - an attitude of passive acceptable of lukewarm conformity - because there appeared to be no alternative to Mussolini's government
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Repression and Terror under the fascist regime

The special tribunal and Confino

  • Fascism was generally tolerated and the dissent that existed posed no real threat to the regime
  • still, it was telling that the Duce would neither allow free speech nor disband the militia
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Repression and Terror under the fascist regime

Italian fascism and anti-Semitism

  • before 1938, anti-semitism had not been an official feature of the Italian Fascist regime
  • Mussolini rejected NAzi racial doctrine, appointmed Guido Jung, a Jew, as finance minister and had a Jewish mistress, Margherita Sarfatti
  • indeed, over 10,000 Jews belonged to eht PNF by 1938
  • moreover, the 50,000 Jewis living in Italy could not be perceived as a threat or problem because they accounted for just 0.1% of the population
  • but, some fascists were anti-Semitic and the Duce occasionally criticised the Jews for their beliefs or actions
  • late 1930s, however - Mussolini's Italy built closer ties with Hitler's Germany, the Fascist government launched an anti-Semitic campaign which was designed to remove the Jews from Italian life
  • several anti-Semitic decrees were introudced between September 1938 and June 1939, which imposed a variety of restrictions on the Jewish community
  • as a result of these measures, some 7000 Jews were forced out of the armed services, 181 Jewish teachers and academics were sacked, 400 Jewish state employees lost their jobs, and 5600 students were expelled from schools and universities
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Repression and Terror under the fascist regime

Italian fascism and anti-Semitism

  • over next 3 years - around 6000 Italian Jews emigrated
  • many Jewish-owned businesses closed down too
  • once Italy had entered the Second World War on the side of Germany in 1940, all foreign Jews were interned and several thousand were sent to a concentration camp in Calabria
  • Italian Jews were conscripted by the government to perform heavy manual tasks

The anti-Semitic laws of 1938-39 were introduced due to:

  • Mussolini's desire to express solidarity with his ally, Nazi Germany
  • a hardening of racist and imperialist attitudes following the conquest of Abyssinia
  • Jewish opposition (e.g. the Rosselli brothers) to the regime
  • the drive to radicalise and galvanise Fascist Italy during the 1930s in preparation for war
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Conclusion: Consent or Coercion?

  • Mussolini once famously claimed that the domestic opposition to his regime was limited to just 2000 individuals
  • this did not mean, however, that the overwhelming majoriyof Italians supported the Fascist dictatorship
  • certainly, as we have seen, the cult of the Duce and organisations such as the OND helped the regime to achieve a level of popularity and public consent
  • it is also true that young Italians growing up in the Fascist education and youth systems after 1925 were more susceptible to propaganda and indoctrination
  • they had no experience of pre-Fascist Italy and their lives were now regimented by Mussolini's government
  • yet all of these support-building measures and organisations operated in a climate of state repression and coercion which would not allow people to express their views freely and pressured them into activities backed by the regime
  • understandably, most Italianshad no wish to be arrested by the OVRA, sent before the Special Tribunal or confined, so they conformed rather than actively consented
  • in this fundamental sense, therefore, coercion was the key element that maintained fascist rule
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Comments

kavi

God the grammar and spelling is shocking, but ignoring that, it was very helpful! :)

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