I do not agree fully with this statement, I believe that there are more arguments against it, than for it. Mussolini did not completely create a loyal nation of fascists but he may have converted many of the Italian people into PNF supporters that were loyal to Italy and to him. He did this through education of the young, especially boys and patriotic celebrations. However the education and youth policy may also be used against the statement, along with the OND, the cult of il Duce, repression and propaganda.
There are the issues of the separate popularity of the PNF and the popularity of Mussolini, and the questionable reasoning behind people joining the OND, ONB and other fascist organisations. The youth policy or the ONB (Opera Nazionale Balilla) in fascist Italy partly supports the statement. Boys were first organised in the ‘sons of the she wolf’ from the age of 6-8, then into the Balilla aged 8-14 and then finally the Fascist Youth Front from age 14-17. Education for boys was to make them militaristic loyal fascists.
They were trained in sport and fitness. Activities included wrestling, boxing, and bomb throwing, marching and shooting. Evidently to some extent this education was successful in making young men loyal to Mussolini and to Italy, many of the young soldiers were prepared to die for their country and stuck it out right until the end of the fascist reign. However, many of the young boys would’ve just enjoyed all of the outdoor activities and found it exciting, rather than having a feeling of loyalty and being brainwashed.
Also, not joining the ONB made it much harder to enrol in further education and non-members were barred from employment in civil service, so many people would’ve felt blackmailed into joining. On top of this, there was a considerable divide between the North and South. Children in the south were less likely to continue education beyond the compulsory age of 11. Also their involvement in agricultural work made it harder for them to participate in youth groups. I believe also that the education of Italian girls did not succeed in indoctrinating them into loyal fascists.
Girls were first in the Daughters of the She Wolf from age 6-8, then the Little Italians from age 8-13 and finally the Young Italian Women from ages 14-17. Education for girls included skills to prepare them for motherhood, for example: gymnastics to ensure they were healthy and fit enough for child bearing. Girls were less likely to continue schooling past the age of 11 and they enjoyed school a lot less that boys. Whilst the boys got to focus of physical activities and fun outdoor games, the girls had much more dull activities which were constantly focused on learning how to be good future mothers.
The Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND) set up in 1925, was the replacement of socialist organisations for worker recreation and welfare. It was arguably one of the most popular aspects of the fascist regime. It provided workers with sporting and social activities. This included football teams, libraries, bars and cycling teams. On top of this, OND members were entitled to discounts on rail tickets, free concerts and plays and even family holidays/excursions. The OND would have made the fascist party popular because of the mass leisure that Italians would never have experienced before.
However I would say that the members joined mostly for the benefits and not because they were loyal fascists. It was in some ways, a bribe offered to people to try and gain their support for the party. The OND was also kept completely ideologically free. This means that none of the activities that people were encouraged to take part in directly promoted fascist ideology or beliefs. So the OND, one of the fascist most popular schemes did not try or succeed in brainwashing the people into loyal Fascists.
The press control in Fascist Italy was tightly controlled in order to portray Italy as a country with no social problems. PNF prefects had the power by decree to confiscate any newspaper, journal or magazine that could be seen as portraying the fascist regime in a negative way. This meant that writers could not publish stories on subjects such as suicides or crime. The public got their opinions from the media, and so if the fascist regime was portrayed as a positive thing then it would be hard for them to believe anything different. This may have led to more people becoming loyal fascists.
However the PNF newspapers only accounted for 10% of the total newspapers being published, people may have got differing opinions from different newspapers. Also, the poorer south had less access to media. Propaganda was a big factor in the fascist regime, the aim was to transform the Italian people into ‘true’ fascists. It focused on attempting to draw all Italians together with a shared patriotic feeling. The symbol of Rome was a very important focus that celebrated the greatness of ancient Rome and its leaders. Large celebrations were held to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus Caesar.
The propaganda portrayed Mussolini as a descendant of Augustus who was rebuilding Italy as a great power once again. However, there was no specific organised ministry for propaganda until 1935 when the Ministry of Popular Culture was set up. On one hand, the portrayed image of the PNF and Mussolini, constantly presented in propaganda, meant that it was difficult for the majority of Italians to hold negative views of the fascist regime. On the other hand, the Ministry of Popular Culture was never very organised and it was difficult to exploit modern mediums.
Also, there was a lack of media in the south so it was hard to find a consensus for the support of fascism and so it was questionable if propaganda actually transformed Italian attitudes. Mussolini’s leadership was described by historians as the cult of il Duce. In the media, Mussolini was portrayed as a great leader with immense ability. There were over 30,000,000 posters of him in 2500 different poses, including many shirtless photos. This ensured that Mussolini appealed to everyone, he was a powerful leader, a modern sportsman and attractive to women.
The cult of il Duce, in my opinion, only gained support for Mussolini and not PNF policies meaning that, unlike ancient Roman leaders, Mussolini would not leave a legacy behind. In conclusion, Mussolini evidently did not create a complete nation of loyal fascists between the years of 1926 and 1939. We know this from the youth policy, the lack of ideology in the OND, propaganda and the cult of il duce. I believe that the majority of support was for Mussolini himself, rather than the fascist regime.