Was Fascist Italy a Totalitarian Regime?

The existence of the church, an organisation which many Italians would consider to be a higher authority than any government, by definition means that fascist Italy was not and cannot have been a totalitarian regime.

The other major institute which prevented Italy from being a totalitarian state was the Church, and despite the Lateran pacts there was still a lot of friction between the youth organisations. An uneasy relationship continued until disagreement over the anti-Semitic race laws sparked another clash with the regime.

As well as this, the factories were still owned by rich industrialists, huge estates in the south were still owned by the families that had owned them for centuries, and the monarchy still existed, with a monarchy that had the constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister.

Each of those reasons on their own are enough to prove that totalitarianism was not achieved by Mussolini, but the existence of all them at the same time shows just how unsuccessful fascist totalitarianism was. An example of a truly totalitarian state would be Stalin’s Russia; a stark contrast to the feeble attempts at totalitarianism in Italy.

Fascist Italy relied totally on consent; consent between the various different power blocks which, in a truly totalitarian regime would have been coerced into submission regardless of whether they wished to or not. It was still a suppressive regime which had a secret police and concentration camps and where parliamentary democracy had been forgone for a one-party state in which the press and media were thoroughly censored, but it failed to utilise these to great effect.

Characteristic of a totalitarian regime is an effective secret police force, such as the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, and the Italian alternative was known as ‘OVRA’ which was only a fraction of the size in comparison and often inefficient and corrupt.

Despite this, it was still highly effective as a repressive tool, and it had a network of thousands of informants. Serious offenders could expect imprisonment in concentration camps of the Lipari Islands off Italy’s south-west coast.

What can be said, however, for Mussolini, is that he very effective at suppressing political opposition; until 1943 there was little to no anti-fascist movement, and it must be remembered that ultimately it was foreign armies which brought an end to Mussolini’s rule, not internal opposition. Any fascist leaders who tried to usurp him were similarly suppressed, and were sent off to other countries or even imprisoned. The regime only executed 5 Italians before 1940, which shows that conformity was the norm.

 

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