The Elites & Class Structure

Contrary to his earlier messages, Mussolini was very cautious of antagonising the powerful interest groups that existed in Italian society, and as a result he did no push through any major reforms until the end of the 1930s.

Yet these elites did not benefit particularly either from the fascist regime, and were in many cases severely weakened. For example, in the case of the monarchy, the power and prestige held by the office of monarch was significantly weaker than it had been before Mussolini took power.

The big landowners kept much of their estates and had enough power to be able to challenge Mussolini’s regime did they feel it to be necessary, and as a result the Fascist Regime had no choice but to pander to these self-interested aristocrats.

The academic elite remained much how they had been before, with little reform to either the universities or the schools which provided much of their undergraduates. Similarly, the artistic elite were happy to accept fascist support and did not have any widespread difficulty with the regime.

The northern industrialists, from cities such as Milan and Turin, were very fearful of the fascist regimes claimed support for a socialist style revolution, and as a result were very hostile to the introduction of the ‘corporate state’ which promised to bestow power to the workers. When they realised the reality, that the corporate state essentially neutralised the power of the trade unions, they very quickly changed their minds and got behind the fascist regime. That is until the late ‘30s, where the big businesses had no choice but to accept large amounts of state intervention which removed much of their ability to challenge the state.

It was not only the social elites which fascism failed to abolish, but also the class structure which was so prevalent in Italian society; particularly in the South where those who were economically disadvantaged only saw a decrease in living standards and were isolated from the rest of the country. The largest change to Italian peasant life came not from a direct fascist policy, but from the migration to the cities in search of industrial work.

As for the urban working classes, an exponentially increasing demographic at the time, change was slow and minor – at least until the late ‘30s. Cities saw a mass of unskilled workers who worked for very little pay; and the restrictions on trade unions was definitely responsible for this, despite plenty of talk in parliament for an egalitarian society which benefitted the working class.

Taking into account the worsening of conditions for the peasants and working class, it is not surprising that the middle classes did well out of fascism; particularly those who were civil servants or had other white-collar jobs.

In essence then, fascism kept the social order as it had found it right until the late 1930s, and Italy remained a male-dominated society where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

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