transition to dictatorship

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  • Portrayed as an excellent horseman, violinist, daring pilot, bold war hero, intellectual who had mastered all major philosophies etc 
  • Mussolini created a kind of conflict between the party and the state, which ensured survival for both. He wanted to create discord below the surface to promote his own position and make sure that he was indispensable. All competing parties would eventually need him to settle any dispute on who was responsible for any particular thing, enforcing his dominance, and in turn making govt. slow and ponderous. Below Mussolini the story really is of inefficiency, confusion and incompetence.
  • The greatest threat to M. was probably from the Fascists themselves-so he set about de-politicising the regime-a strange paradox-the strength of Fascism depended on the weakness of Fascist organisations!
  • M. created a vacuum where you would normally find an elite, without this elite then M. had no potential fascist enemies of large threat. This was a classic personal dictatorship. Personal power in fact took precedent over the desire ‘Fascistise’ the nation.
  • Cult of Duce responded to a deep psychological need and responded to public demand. The population found hero worship an essential antidote to fear. Ideology needed to be personified. He was sustained by popular adulation.
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  • Four attempts on Mussolini’s life was the excuse given for much of the coercion and tightening of control.
  • Indoctrination is invariably linked to coercion (use of force or threats to make people do things against their will).
  • Use of force had been implicit from the beginning, and a system of repression was gradually constructed.
  • November 1925
  • secret organisations banned
  • anti-govt. conduct by public employees a sackable offence

    December 1925

  • Mussolini new title Head of Government and Duce
  • Abolished the right for a ‘no confidence’ vote in the chamber

    January 1926

  • political organisations who were guilty of ‘actions against the regime’ were banned
  • capital punishment was introduced
  • Aventine walk out deputies were banned for life
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Coercion 2

  • The Law On The Defence of The State  (Legge Fascistissime) was established in 1926. This involved a special tribunal to judge whether or not the accused were anti-Fascist. This meant imprisonment for anyone attempting to reconstitute an opposition party, or propagating doctrines, opinions or methods of such parties.
  • Between 1927 and 1943, 21,000 were tried, 5,100 were sent to prison. The most famous case was the leading communist Antonio Gramsci who received a 20 year sentence.
  • 49 people were sentenced to death
  • On average 365 anti-Fascists were imprisoned each year 
  • 1927 saw the establishment of OVRA (Opera Voluntaria per la Repressione Antifascista) secret police. People who experienced these organisations were usually ex-politicians and people who refused to take an oath of loyalty to the regime. And then by the late 1930’s the apparatus was used to force an anti-Semitic policy.
  • It is hardly surprising that little in the way of opposition existed, based with such an array of repressive measures. The opposition was both scarce and disorganised. Communists and a group around Carlo Roselli (murdered 1937) who wished to create an alliance between the socialists and the Liberals. 
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How effective?

  • Historians are divided on this point. On the one hand Morgan states, the police’s preventative and repressive powers were now so extensive and pervasive as to create a real climate of fear and repression.’  The lack of effective opposition would certainly point to this view.
  • During the 1930’s about 20,000 actions were taken by the police each week, based usually on the co-operation of the public.
  • So scope of repression was considerable, but what of fear? Not that high. OVRA nowhere near as scary as the ** or the NKVD in Russia. No real change in the criminal justice system and many cases were thrown out of court. Having said that the state did murder between 400 and 2,000 for political reasons.
  • Payne said that ‘In Italy the Mussolini regime was brutal and repressive, but not murderous and bloodthirsty.’
  • Another form of punishment was confine, internal exile.
  • It became increasingly necessary for people to be Party members to gain employment. Dissenters were often sent to poor regions to find work in a form of internal exile, (Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi).
  • By 1943 about 14,000 people had been internally exiled.
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Indoctrination and culture


  • Main emphasis on personality cult. Allegiance focussed on M.
  • He stood ramrod straight to appear taller, shaved his head to hide baldness.
  • Claimed that foreigners hailed the great success of the new Italy (Churchill).
  • Emphasised the impossibility of opposition.
  • Population promised a return to the greatness of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.
  • Much was made of the successes of foreign policy.
  • Parades, processions, press, education all used to convey the message that the present was one of the greatest moments in Italian history, and that Italian had a duty to participate in this new great adventure.
  • Always difficult to quantify the effectiveness of propaganda, but it still appears that Mussolini himself was popular. To most Italians Mussolini brought about stability at home and success abroad. An increase in personal wealth for many coupled with the excitement of patriotic victories equalled a satisfaction with the Duce.
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Indoctrination and culture


  • Changes slow at first. In December 1925 Mussolini instructed schools to educate children under the guidelines of the fascist revolution. Anti-Fascist teachers were purged and by 1933 teachers had to pledge loyalty to the regime. After 1929 an effort made to Fascistise schools under Ministry of National Education. In 1928 a single primary textbook was introduced to produce conformity within the young. Duce, militarism and imperialism on the agenda.
  • 8 year olds were told ‘the eyes of the Duce are on every one of you.’
  • By 1938 racism was openly taught in the classroom.
  • Not very successful over all in education-universities housed many anti-fascists, although, lecturers by 1931 were also obliged to swear an oath of allegiance.
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Indoctrination and culture

1926-   Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB)

  • Was also used to indoctrinate the youth, its slogan was Believe, obey, fight’. The ONB offered sports, summer camps and pre-military training.
  • By 1939 membership was compulsory.
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How effective?

  • Large section of youth responded to fascism but 40% managed to avoid.
  • More effective in urban than rural areas.
  • 1925- Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND) was an attempt to organise the population and workforce, particularly during the depression. The organisation, co-ordinated work schemes and clubs; operated libraries, radio, sports etc. It was made a full ministry in 1935 in order to utilise media as a form of indoctrination. The Dopolavaro was in fact very popular as it really only paid lip service to the Fascist ideals of physical and military training, the real emphasis was on having fun. By 1939 the membership had increased to 4 million, from the initial 300,000 in 1926.
  • (Other measures that the regime introduced did not prove nearly so popular, i.e. the Fascist salute becoming compulsory in 1937, as an alternative to the handshake.)
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  • After Mussolini’s speech of 3.1.25 opposition newspapers were repeatedly confiscated. Eg the communist paper Unita was once confiscated 11 times in 13 days. By Feb 1925 Liberal newspapers were difficult to find.
  • Pressure was put on newspaper proprietors to sack editors and replace them with fascist editors. This happened to the 4 leading Italian papers. Corriere della Serra, and La Stampa. Satirical newspapers were particularly targeted.
  • June 1925, new press laws introduced. Full censorship was now in place.
  • Mussolini considered control of press to be essential. By 1928 all journalists had to be registered with Fascist Journalist Association.
  • Foreign journalists who were critical faced assault and disruption of their reports (cables sabotaged). Favourable journalists got privileged information and were rewarded for their positive reporting.
  • Constant distortion of facts led to entire government including Mussolini himself becoming severely misinformed!
  • However the state was unable to fully control the press. Some fascist publications for example openly criticised the state for not being radical enough.
  • It also proved impossible to stamp out the underground anti-fascist press.
  • Ministry for Press and Propaganda ran by Ciano to present Ethiopian campaign in a positive way.
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  • Cultural output on the whole was more diverse than in Germany or Soviet Union, Italians more receptive to outside influence-‘art for arts sake’.
  • Mussolini wanted to develop a more utilitarian art style. Attempts were made to institutionalise the control of culture-Ministry of Popular Culture 1937. It was to regulate music, art, literature, cinema etc. But was never as successful as Goebbels inGermany.
  • The Italian fascist state failed to exert the type of control usually associated with  authoritarianism. The traditional liberal culture was difficult to eradicate.
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  • If you towed the party line and conformed to the regime then rewards could be great, especially in professions such as journalism, where salaries were doubled for Fascist writing.
  • Intellectuals too producing pro-Mussolini material were honoured. Marconi who invented radio was made a marquis, D’Annunzio was granted a very generous pension and was given a palatial villa as a reward for his services to fascism.
  • The Fascist Academy offered plum jobs to leading professors.
  • Few resisted this new found life of luxury, after all the alternative would be dismissal, imprisonment or worse.
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continuation of violence

  • During the early years of the regime led by Roberto Farinacci
  • He pushed Mussolini into repressive measures. Mussolini made him PNF Secretary General in Jan 1925, in charge of party organisation.
  • As party sec. he played a crucial role in establishing the dictatorship. He directed local terror campaigns against opponents. He advocated the dominance of the party over the state where as other leading fascists such as Federzoni, Rocco and Mussolini himself favoured control by use of the state machinery such as the police, the state dominant over the party.
  • Mussolini removed him from his post in 1926 after he had done the required job.
  • Particular targets were opposition politicians such Amendola,  Mussolini’s  chief opponent after death of Matteotti.  He died from being beaten in 1925. (Between 1919-1922 remember, 2,000 opponents of Fascism lost their lives.)
  • Journalists were also targeted with violence, eg Gobetti who died of injuries in exile.
  • Opposition figures, fearing or experiencing violence tended to go into exile. Eg. Roselli brothers (anti-Fascist activists), Don Sturzo (former PPI leader).
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early foreign policy

  • 1923 Corfu Italian official killed, Italy demands approx £25 million in compensation and an official apology, Greece was conciliatory but Italy invaded Corfu anyway, League of Nations and Britain demanded that Italy withdrew which they did after Greece paid the compensation. The Italians said this was a great success. 
  • 1924 Fiume, Mussolini in Jan 1924 Yugoslavia agreed to give Italy Fiume. Another great success but Fiume was losing its importance over this period 
  • 1925 Locarno Pact (accepting existing boundaries, a form of non-aggression treaty),
  • 1926 Albania (an Italian protectorate or client state)
  • Pointed toward Italy becoming a dominant power, more myth than reality really.
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These revision cards provide excellent detail on the rise of fascism in Italy. Useful for acquiring subject knowledge.

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