Indoctrination: How Italian Youth Became Crucial to the Fascist Regime

By Lucas Russell

Introduction

Before and during Mussolini’s leadership from 1922 to 1943, Fascist propaganda played a crucial role in shaping and manipulating the Italian masses. While some of it seems pretty black and white, with posters worshiping Mussolini and newspaper articles on benefits of fascism, there were actually countless forms of propaganda used during this time. There were many modes used including exhibits, songs on the radio, films, slogans, and more. The range of these topics also varied greatly. One of these modes used to spread fascist beliefs that was crucial to Mussolini and his fascist reign was indoctrination within the schools.

At such a young age, the brain is still developing and Italian fascists preyed on this fact. By instilling fascist beliefs and utilizing propaganda on students at such a young age, Mussolini was able to build a whole nation off of his beliefs. This indoctrination within the schooling system took form in many different ways. Right away, the curriculum was changed in order to reflect fascist beliefs. Teachers and students that disagreed, or refused to teach, were fired or punished immediately. Along with this, songs and commandments were given to mold mindsets and instill these beliefs into the young generation. There was an emphasis on physical fitness, especially with young boys, as these traits were desired for a strong national army. 

Curriculum Shift

Almost overnight, the curriculum that existed within the Italian schooling system underwent a huge shift. Fascist ideology was incorporated into all curriculums, through multiple modes. One way it was taught was through the use of propaganda. Students were exposed to a constant stream of propaganda throughout their classrooms. Teachers and professors often used it as a tool to promote fascist values and ideas. This propaganda often took the form of posters, slogans, and other materials that were designed to instill a sense of national pride and loyalty to the fascist regime. The main themes that were pushed during this time were pretty consistent. Fascist ideology enforced a very nationalist sentiment that they portrayed through the schooling system. For example, Mussolini was taught as not just a leader, but a savior who saved Italian culture and was necessary for success. Other ideologies, foreign products, and foreign ideologies were strongly prohibited. Even name changes were enforced for those with foreign or lesser-sounding Italian names. Books throughout libraries that taught other political methods or concepts were banned, and any professors who went on to defy these changes were immediately fired. 

Below is an image of a notebook given to children, used to color in fascist images along with quotes from Mussolini. Here is just one example of how fascist ideologies were incorporated heavily into children’s curriculum.

Giovinezza in MarciaUWM Libraries

Physical and Mental Values

Another method enforced in Italian schools to further this youth indoctrination is a new emphasis on physical fitness and mental strength, through ways such as commandments, songs, and updated requirements. Aside from the propaganda, fascism was also incorporated through strict disciplinary measures. Students were expected to conform to a set of strict rules and regulations, and those who failed to do so were often punished harshly. For example, students might be punished for failing to stand at attention during the national anthem, or for failing to display the proper level of respect for their teachers or other authority figures. This emphasis on discipline was seen as necessary in order to create a sense of order and obedience among students. It was also seen as a way to prepare young people for the rigors of military service, which was a necessary part of fascist ideology. 

Aside from this mental strength regulated and enforced within the schools, the promotion of physical fitness and military training also was utilized. Students were encouraged to participate in physical education classes and other activities that were designed to promote strength and endurance. They were also often given military training, which was seen as a crucial part of preparing them for their future roles as soldiers and defenders of the fascist state. In this way, fascist indoctrination within Italian schools aimed to create a generation of young people who were loyal to the fascist regime, obedient to its rules and regulations, and physically fit and capable of defending the country.

Below is a newspaper article, six days after Italy’s invasion into France, celebrating the invasion and applauding the military. 

Il Bo. Padua, 16 June 1940. – UWM Libraries

Fascist Youth Organizations

An example of the success of this youth indoctrination can be shown through the fascist youth organizations. Fascist youth organizations played a significant role in the rise of the fascist movement in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. The most well-known of these organizations was the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (Italian Youth of the Lictor), commonly known as the Balilla, which was founded in 1926 and was named after a Genoan boy who was said to have started a revolt against Austrian rule in 1746. The Balilla was open to boys between the ages of 8 and 18, and its members were indoctrinated with fascist ideology and trained in military drills and other activities.

Another important fascist youth organization in Italy was the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB), which was founded in 1933 and was open to both boys and girls. The ONB aimed to inculcate fascist values in Italian youth and prepare them for future roles as leaders in the fascist state. It organized a range of activities, including sporting events, cultural activities, and military training. Both the Balilla and the ONB were closely controlled by the fascist government, and their leaders were appointed by the fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. These organizations played a key role in promoting fascist ideology and rallying support for the regime among young people, and many of their members went on to hold positions of power and influence in the fascist government.

Attached below is “Giovinezza”, the fascist song sung throughout schools, and at rallies. This song would be sung frequently by the fascist youth organizations. The video includes lyrics in English.

Video of “Giovinezza”, 1924 version from Ingen on Youtube

These are just a few highlights of indoctrination of youth during Italy’s fascist regime. It can be easy to overlook the role the youth played during this time, but with such changing and growing minds they proved to play a huge tool during this fascist regime. The ability to work with kids at such a young age and control what they take in, learn, and work towards is an invaluable weapon. Through the methods discussed, Mussolini and the fascist party were able to mold a generation into ideal fascists, soldiers, and supporters that they needed desperately during this time. 

Works Cited

Foss, Clive. Teaching Fascism: Schoolbooks of Mussolini’s Italy. Harvard Library Bulletin New Series Spring, 1997.

Ledeen, Michael A. “Italian Fascism and Youth.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 4, no. 3, 1969, pp. 137–154., https://doi.org/10.1177/002200946900400309.

“UW-Madison Libraries Exhibits.” Education, https://exhibits.library.wisc.edu/special-collections/italian-life-under-fascism-selections-from-the-fry-collection/education/.

Visser, Romke. “Fascist Doctrine and the Cult of the Romanità.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 27, no. 1, 1992, pp. 5–22., https://doi.org/10.1177/002200949202700101.

YouTube, 26 Aug. 2018, https://youtu.be/Qr0xi5gwumw. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

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