Propaganda of Fascist Italy was the material put forth by Italian Fascism to justify its authority and programs and encourage popular support.
The Fascist regime made heavy use of propaganda, including pageantry and rhetoric, to inspire the nation into the unity that would obey.
At first, all propaganda efforts were grouped together under the press office; propaganda efforts were slowly organized until a Ministry of Popular Culture was created in 1937. A special propaganda ministry was created in 1935, with the avowed purpose of telling the truth about fascism, refuting the lies of its enemies, and clearing up ambiguities, which were only to be expected in so large and dynamic a movement.
A fascist doctrine was first set forth in The Manifesto of the Fasci of Combat, and further enumerated in The Doctrine of Fascism purportedly written entirely by Benito Mussolini, but he only wrote the second part, the first part was actually also written by Giovanni Gentile.
Fascism's internal contradictions were justified by Mussolini as a product of its nature: a doctrine of action, a revolt against the conformity and alienation of bourgeois society.
Il Duce was the center of Fascism and portrayed as such. The cult of the Duce was in many respects the unifying force of the fascist regime, acting as a common denominator of various political groups and social classes in the fascist party and the Italian society. This leadership cult helped reconcile Italians with the regime despite annoyance with local officials. A basic slogan proclaimed that Mussolini was always right (Italian: Il Duce ha sempre ragione).
Endless publicity revolved about Mussolini with newspapers being instructed on exactly what to report about him.
He was generally portrayed in a macho manner, although he could also appear as a Renaissance man, or as military, family, or even common. This reflected his presentation as a universal man, capable of all subjects; a light was left on in his office long after he was asleep as part of propaganda to present him as an insomniac owing to his driven to work nature. Mussolini as a practitioner of various sports such as fencing, auto racing, skiing, horse riding, lion taming and swimming was promoted to create an image of a valiant and fearless hero. Mussolini's prestige as a hero aviator in the manner of Charles Lindbergh was especially important, as for fascism the aeroplane embodied qualities such as dynamism, energy and courage. Mussolini himself oversaw which photographs could appear, rejecting some, for instance, because he was not sufficiently prominent in a group.
Mussolini's youthfulness (when he took office, he became the youngest prime minister in Italian history), and his virile and energetic appearance were promoted. In fascist symbolism, youth constituted a metaphor for action and vitality, thus emphasizing fascism's nature as a revolutionary ideology in contrast to the stasis of liberal democracy. The official hymn of the fascist movement, Giovinezza, links the concepts of youth, the rebirth of the nation and the reign of Mussolini into symbolic unity. The publicizing of Mussolini's birthdays and illnesses were banned for journalists, to give an impression of him not aging. The erotic aspect of the cult was also prominent: although Mussolini was portrayed as a respectable family man, at the same time state propaganda did little to counter the idea that he had sexual magnetism to women and was promiscuous.
Legends of Mussolini defying death during the First World War and surviving assassination attempts were circulated to give the dictator a mythical, immortal aura. It was stated that Mussolini's body had been pierced by shrapnel just like Saint Sebastian had been pierced by arrows; the difference being that Mussolini had survived this ordeal. He was also compared to Saint Francis of Assisi, who had, like Mussolini, "suffered and sacrificed himself for others". Mussolini's humble origin was described with explicit parallels with the life of Christ: when writing about his blacksmith father and mother, fascist propaganda presented them symbolically as the Holy Family ("They are but Mary and Joseph in relation to Christ"). His home town of Predappio was developed as a place of mass tourism and symbolic pilgrimage. The Vatican implied that heavenly powers were aware that Mussolini had saved Italy from bolshevism and thus protected him. Pope Pius XI referred to him as "the man of Providence" during the aftermath of the Lateran treaty. The press described his speeches as sacramental meetings of Duce and people. Mussolini's melodramatic style of oratory was both pantomimic and liturgical, with exaggerated poses and hand movements and prominent variations in the pitch and tone of his voice. Mussolini intended his speeches to be faith-inspiring theatrical performances, stating that "the crowd does not have to know; it must believe".
In addition to being depicted as being chosen by God, the regime presented Mussolini himself having omnipotent or godlike characteristics, such as being able to work superhuman amounts (14–16 hours) daily and never appearing tired. Fascist newspapers implied even that Mussolini had performed miracles, such as stopping the lava flow of Mount Etna, and invoking rain in the drought-suffering Libya during his visit to the region in March 1937. A story of a deaf-mute boy being cured after listening in a crowd to a speech of the Duce was told in an elementary school manual.
His overtly belligerent image did not prevent newspapers from declaring he had done more for peace than anyone else, on the principle that Mussolini always did better than everyone else.
His image proclaimed that he had improved the Italian people morally, materially, and spiritually.
He was the Duce and proclaimed in song even before the seizure of power.
The war on Ethiopia was presented as a revival of Roman Empire, with Mussolini as Augustus.
To improve fascism's image in North Africa and Levant and to gain Arab support, Mussolini had himself declared the "Protector of Islam" during an official visit to Libya in 1937.
Fascism was among the most visible of movements that exulted action over talk and violence over reason, partly stemming from World War I. This was used to justify taking up notions and dropping them again.
Economic issues were presented in a heroic and militaristic manner, with programs being termed the Battle of Wheat and the Battle of the Lira.
Military matters were also straightforwardly praised, with the aim of primacy on land, sea, and air. Because war was to man what maternity was to woman, disarmament was impossible.
War and killing were praised as the essence of manhood. A Fascist encyclopedia proclaimed, "Nothing is ever won in history without bloodshed." This drew upon older themes, exulted in World War I, with injunctions that suffering was necessary for greatness. World War I was often cited in Fascist propaganda, with many prominent Fascists displaying many medals from the conflict. To such figures as Gabriele d'Annunzio, the return of peace meant only the return of the humdrum, while the ideal was still war, themes that Fascism drew into its propaganda. Mussolini, shortly before the seizure of power, proclaimed violence better than compromise and bargaining. Afterwards, there was a prolonged period where the absence of military action did not prevent the government from many belligerent statements. Interviews appearing in foreign press, where Mussolini spoke of wanting peace, had that portion censored out before appearing in Italian papers. The annexation of Albania was presented as a splendid act of aggression. In the run-up to World War II, Mussolini's claim he could field 8 million was quickly exaggerated to 9 million, and then to 12 million. The continually bellicose pose created an embarrassment with the outbreak of World War II, where failure to join the war would undermine the propaganda effect.
The Italians were called to be like Roman legionaries, while their opponents were depicted as weak and enthralled by money. Great Britain was denounced in particular, although both France and later the United States (when its sympathies were clearly turning toward the Allies) also came in for abuse.
Heroism was exaggerated. Fascist violence prior to their seizure of power was legitimized. The March on Rome was presented, mythically, as a bloody and heroic seizure of power.
Futurism was a useful part of the cultural scene, owing to its militaristic elements.
National and social unity was symbolized by the fasces themselves, the bound sticks being stronger together than individually. This drew on military themes from World War I, where Italians were called to pull together into a unity. Mussolini openly proclaimed that Fascists were willing to kill or die when it was a question of the fatherland as the March on Rome was prepared. Similarly, he declared that the State did not weaken the individual, any more than a soldier was weakened by the rest of the regiment.
This was part of an explicit rejection of liberal individualism; the punitive aspect of the fasces, containing an ax, not being omitted. Furthermore, Fascism was to be a totalitarian, that is total experience, since it was impossible to a Fascist only in politics, and therefore overtly rejected liberalism's private and public spheres. Fascism was not a party but a way of life. The corporatist state was offered as a unifying form of politics, as opposed to liberal democracy. Fascism and the state were identified, and everything was to be encompassed in the state.
Work was presented as a social duty, because Italy was greater than any individual purpose. Beehives were presented as a model of industry and harmony.
Furthermore, this unity would allow the entire nation to throw itself into support of military necessity. The sanctions imposed by the League of Nations when Italy attacked Ethiopia were used to unite the country against this "aggression."
Reviving the glories of the Roman Empire in modern Italy was a common theme. This called for the control of Mare Nostrum—our sea, as the Mediterranean was called in Rome. France, Britain, and other powers were denounced as having kept Italy immured. Concerted efforts were made to drum up enthusiasm for colonialism in the 1930s.
Besides its symbolic aspects, the fasces had been carried by the lictors of ancient Rome as a representation of authority. April 21, the anniversary of the founding of Rome, was proclaimed a fascist holiday, intended to replace the socialist Labor Day as a celebration of the Roman virtues of "work" and "discipline". Rome's role in establishing Christianity as a universal religion was also exalted.
Architecture was used to supplement the Roman revival by juxtaposing modern monuments with ancient buildings, such as the creation of the Via dell'Impero. In the city of Rome, archaeological -propagandist projects involving the clearing, isolation (often by deliberately destroying surrounding Medieval buildings) and restoration of key monuments such as the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum of Augustus received strong support from the fascist regime. A major propaganda event was the opening of the "Augustan Exhibition of Romanitas" on 23 September 1937 to celebrate the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of Augustus. Here the symbolic connection between Caesarean leadership of Augustus and Mussolini's dictatorship was stressed. At the exhibition entrance was inscribed a quote from Mussolini: "Italians, you must ensure that the glories of the past are surpassed by the triumphs of the future." Rome thus constituted a point of reference in fascism's dream of building an aggressive and forward-looking Italy of the future. After the successful military campaign against Ethiopia and the subsequent proclamation of the Italian Empire, regime propaganda depicted fascism now even overshadowing its Roman past.
Spazio vitale, living space (or vital space), was presented as needing conquest. It would strengthen the country by drawing off its surplus population, sending landless peasants and the unemployed to work the earth, buy Italian goods, and act as a garrison. Millions of Italians could live in Ethiopia, and exaggerated claims were made of its resources.
This would amend the situation after World War I, where Italy's allies had cheated it of expansion into the former Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, which its sacrifices in the war had entitled it to.
Even while arguing the population had to be drained off, propaganda urged greater fertility, deriding men who failed to produce children and women whose Parisian fashions did not fit them for bearing children. Slogans urged maternity as the female form of patriotism. Mussolini instructed the heads of fascist women's organizations to go home and tell the women that they needed many births. To help the "battle of births", assistance had to be given to mothers and newborns, and the founding of an organization to do so was trumpeted. Contraception was decried as producing medical problems.
Mussolini also called for a more rural Italy to increase births.
The "battles" to reclaim land and increase grain production, Mussolini trumpeted, had produced enough that Italy could hold ten million more.
Fascist rhetoric portrayed the attack on Ethiopia as advancing the cause of civilization. Other European nations were called on to stand with Italy against savage cannibals and slave-holders.
This was backed up with one of their most impressive ceremonies, the Gold for the Fatherland initiative, which involved the donation of wedding rings and other forms of gold by Italian citizens in exchange for steel wristbands bearing the words "Gold for the Fatherland". Many Italians participated, and even Rachele Mussolini was known to have donated her wedding ring. The donated gold was then collected and used to fund the war effort.
During the war, propaganda was spread about exaggerated Ethiopian atrocities, both abuse of prisoners and misuse of the Red Cross symbol on military installations.
A series of calculated lies was propagated to win support for the Ethiopian venture by claiming that Italy was self-sufficient in food and enough oil had been stock-piled.
Socialism was resisted, particularly in its internationalist forms. Socialist forces were denounced as a "Russian army." An editorialist, afraid that Fascist violence would repulse women, warned them that the killings were necessary to save Italy from the "Bolshevist beast."
In his first speech as a deputy, he proclaimed that no dealings were possible between Communism and Fascism, even while he proclaimed his willingness to work with other groups.
The Spanish Civil War was presented as a crusade against Communism.
The influx of foreign culture was attacked. "Americanism" was the object of an organized propaganda campaign that attacked as a "grease stain which is spreading through the whole of European life." French and Russian novels, and H. G. Wells's Outline of History were also attacked as contaminating youth. British literature was used to show them as decadent as the French, their low birth rate was decried, and it was proclaimed that Italy had saved Britain and France in World War I.
Italianization of street names and monuments in linguistically Slavic and German regions of Italy was mandated by legislation, while teachers instructing in languages other than Italian were persecuted (See Katakombenschule). In 1926, new legislation was introduced decreeing the Italianization of Slavic surnames. Sports clubs were likewise forced to Italianize their names: A.C. Milan became Milano and Internazionale was renamed Ambrosiana, after the patron saint of Milan.
Democracy and liberalism were pronounced moribund, citing praise that fascism received everywhere, and the workers of North America wished they had a Mussolini. He demonstrated the inherent superiority of autocratic regimes to democracies, by fixing problems that liberalism had no answer to. In 1934, Mussolini declared both democracy and liberalism dead. Bourgeois culture and morality were seen as integral parts of liberalism and were thus attacked. The bourgeoisie supposedly valued utilitarianism, materialism, well-being and maintaining the status quo instead of the fascist virtues of dynamism, courage, discipline and self-sacrifice. An anti-bourgeois exhibition was opened on 29 November 1937. It denounced "typical aspects of bourgeois mentality" and ridiculed gestures and customs such as handshakes, suits, top hats and afternoon tea, all to which fascism was to provide its own replacements, such as the Roman salute. Even the Gregorian calendar was deemed as being bourgeois - in the era fascista the year was to begin on October 29, the day after the anniversary of the March on Rome, and the years were to be counted from 1922 according to a Roman numeral.
The Nazi rise to power was used as Germany's imitating Italy, which would soon be followed by other nations.
The attack on Ethiopia was framed as Italy's vigor and idealism easily crushing the decadent, bloodless, cowardly democracies, especially as they supported barbarians over the mother of civilizations.
The United States was particularly resented for its wealth and position.
Joining World War II was presented as a war on decadent plutocracies. These powers were also claimed to have prevented Italian imperialism. Mussolini began to decry the oppression Italy suffered as early as the peace negotiations of World War I and the first days of Fascism as a movement.
Authorities were allowed to confiscate newspapers on the grounds they published false information likely to incite class hatred or bring the government into contempt. Meanwhile, pro-Fascist journals were subsidized, and by 1926, government permission was needed to publish.
Slogans were widely used, inscribed on walls.
Many of Italy's leading graphic artists produced Fascist posters.
To counter British pamphlets that proclaimed bombs the curse of Garibaldi, posters proclaimed that a British defeat meant worse than bombs, barbarism, would befall them. Americans were depicted as ready to plunder Italy's treasures.
The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution was devised as propaganda to recount Italian history to the March on Rome to engage the visitors with Fascist Italy emotionally.
Two major marches were devised as propaganda: the March on Rome, where Mussolini demanded power, and the March of the Iron Will, to capture the Ethiopian capital. The notion of a "march on Rome" as a concept to inspire heroism and sacrifice, and the Fascists made full use of the notion.
Songs were widely used for propaganda purposes. Even prior to the seizure of power, Mussolini was praised in song. Its anthem was Giovinezza ("Youth").
With the spread of ownership of radio units during the Fascist regime, radio became the major tool for propagandizing the population. It was used to broadcast Mussolini's open-air speeches, and as an instrument for propagandizing youth. American author Ezra Pound broadcast on short-wave radio to propagandize the United States.
Film was not widely used for propaganda, as the Italian public was not interested in the "serious" films the government produced, but censorship was heavily used to avoid unwanted material, and a governmental body was set up to produce documentaries on Fascist achievements.
Curriculums for schools were immediately overhauled for Fascist purposes, in a manner that Nazis later admitted to imitating, so that elementary schools were soon spending twenty percent of their time teaching children to be good Fascists. Teachers were removed if they did not conform, and textbooks were required to emphasize the "Fascist soul."
Young Fascists and University Fascist Groups existed to channel talent to the Fascist Party, and for several years were the party's only source of new members. Students soon learned they had to join the university groups to advance. Mussolini proclaimed their purpose was to inspire the youth for power and conquests, and as Fascist.
Up to the age of fourteen, the groups were mainly sports for physical fitness, but at fourteen, militaristic drills were added. They were given songs and commandments to mold their views. Everything from cultural institutes to camps was deployed to consolidate activities about fascism.