Compare and contrast Hitler and Mussolini's domestic policies

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • Compare and contrast the domestic policies of Hitler and Mussolini. (May 10)


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Both Benito Mussolini (in power in Italy between 1922- 43) and Adolf Hitler (in power in Germany between 1933-45) were fascist leaders who were able to rise to power and establish single party states during the interwar period by exploiting feelings of national discontentment following the Versailles settlement. As rulers who had received widespread support based on their ability to express grand visions of future glory for their respective Italy and Germany, both Mussolini and Hitler relied upon social policy as a means of trying to impose their fascist ideologies on the population at large and to maintain support for their regimes. It could also be used as means of controlling the population and marginalizing opposition to fascist rule. However, in neither Mussolini’s Italy nor Hitler’s Germany were these bold aims fully realized in practice. This essay will examine and analyze key points of comparison and contrast between their domestic policies, while also evaluating how far each dictator was able to successfully achieve their goals in these areas.

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Ideology and general social aims:

General fascist principles
  • Nationalism and state centralism - nation as an organic community that needs strong leadership, a singular collective identity (i.e. “the German people”) and a will to wage war to keep the nation strong.
  • National expansion in foreign policy - view of world based on belief that struggles of nations and races are a central feature of the world. Growth of empire and national expansion seen as proof of national strength and virility.
  • Militarism and focusing of domestic society towards war as a key consequence of this foreign policy worldview
  • Anti-individualism - individuals only important in terms of their contribution to the state and the nation. No human value or rights outside of the fascist state. This sacrificing of the individual to the nation - think motherhood for example - an important feature of both Fascist and Nazi domestic policy.
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Features specific to Hitler -
  • volksgemeinschaft’ - aim to create a community in which every individual saw their purpose as contributing to the greater good of the German volk.
  • Racial theory and anti-semitism central to Hitler’s social vision - only pure Aryan Germans part of the German ‘volk’, which would guarantee its superiority - no room for asocials, disabled or non-Aryans.

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Features specific to Mussolini -
  • pragmatic and flexible nature of Mussolini’s policies - “only maniacs never change” (Mussolini) - changed fascism from left to right-wing between 1919 and 1921.
  • Historian Denis Mack Smith points to the disparate (varied) nature of Italian fascism - variously left and right, revolutionary and conservative, Catholic and anti-clerical - depending on Mussolini’s needs at the time
  • Historians therefore can’t identify exact domestic policies/goals being put into action, but instead point to Mussolini’s ‘window-dressing’ - i.e. celebrating any success possible, and presenting things in as positive light as possible
  • Broad aim of policy: to create a new type of Italian - virile, heroic, selfless in service of the nation

Education and Youth:

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Both encouraged a ‘cult of Youth’ to indoctrinate youth with Nazi/fascist values in order to capture/mould the minds of the future generations.
  • Italy - established a national youth movement (1926), in which membership was made compulsory in 1932. However, 40% of youth never joined, with especially low figures in the rural South.Youth group meetings were highly militarized and had much political indoctrination, but also had sporting and recreational activities that appealed to children. Sons of the she wolf for 4 to 8 year olds; Balilla (ONB) for 8 to 14 year olds; and Avanguardista for 14 to 18 year olds - all with specific uniforms.
  • Germany - millions joined ‘Hitler Youth’ from the age of 4, attracted by the adventurous activities. Gender specific nature of activities: boys schooled in military training in preparation for future war, and girls were prepared for motherhood and homemaking. Pressure to join increased, and membership made compulsory in 1936. However, there is evidence of disillusion with Hitler youth as the years passed, as children became bored by the increasingly military focus. During the war there was even youth opposition groups that challenged the regime - i.e. the Edelweiss pirates.
  • In both countries hard to determine the overall effectiveness of youth propaganda - mixed evidence, and hard to judge ‘loyalty’ - what historical evidence can be used to prove beliefs and commitment of youth?

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Both regimes also attempted to indoctrinate youth and encourage loyalty through exerting control over the classroom and school curricula.
  • Germany - 1933 law purged non-Nazi teachers, and local Nazi officials kept a careful eye on teachers to ensure that adhered to Nazi ideology. Curriculum was politicized - with a greater focus on Physical education, and a focus on Nazi ideas on race and eugenics in History and Biology. From 1935 all textbooks had to be Nazi approved.
  • Success? Nazi focus on encouraging loyalty and physical fitness led to students who were loyal and fit, but stupid! In education terms, these policies reduced the academic quality of the student.
  • Italy - to stop spreading of anti-fascist ideas, anti-fascist teachers were removed in 1920’s and an oath of loyalty to the regime was introduced for teachers. Attempt to control the curriculum in order to promote fascist virtues of manliness, obedience and patriotism, and greater emphasis on Physical Education to make boys fitter for war and girls better prepared for motherhood. But direct fascist intervention in the classroom limited until the 1930’s - not until 1936 that a single fascist history textbook was made compulsory.
  • Success? More successful indoctrination in primary than secondary schools, where focus on academic results and teaching philosophy as a subject encouraged independent thinking. Mixed success - students not hostile to fascist ideas, but not committed to them either. Where some success in political terms, like Nazi Germany a failure in educational terms - very little educational progress was made, and still over 20% of children were illiterate in 1931, esp. in the South.


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Both regimes had a traditional view on the position of women, with separate spheres for men (public role - war, politics, etc) and women (private role - childbearing, homemakers).
  • Nazi slogan - ‘kinder, kuche, kirche’ - showing this conservative focus on childbearing and the home. Though traditional, Nazis saw this as an important role and many women also held these traditional views themselves - not only forced onto them by men.
  • Fascist slogan in Italy described women as “angels of the hearth”, and Mussolini emphasised the separate sphere’s theme through stating, “war is to men what maternity is to women”.

Both encouraged women to have large families, and promoted childbirth as a national duty. For both there existed an important connection between a growing population and national greatness - both showing the ‘strength of the race’ and also providing the raw material for a future army (as satirised in Swedish author Karin Boye's dystopian novel about fascist authoritarianism, Kallocain).
  • Mussolini and 1927 Battle for Births (note military metaphor) - aiming to increase population from 27 million to 60 million. To encourage larger families, higher taxes are imposed on bachelors, tax credits are given to couples with children and medals are given to mothers of many children. In 1932, combining concern with birth control with gaining Catholic Church’s support, contraception, abortion and sterilization are banned.
  • Nazi Germany and similar system of incentives to try and increase birthrate: marriage loans, increased welfare services for mothers and medals for mothers with many children.

Overall successes re women?

Both experienced mixed successes on this front, with some considerable failures also.
  • Germany - slight increase in birthrate, but this was largely due to improved economic circumstances than Nazi policies. Also, labour shortages during WW2 meant that Nazi policy to force women to stay at home and stop working was ignored, as more women were needed to work. Desperation to increase birthrate led to further contradictions with Nazi ideology - i.e. stress on marriage ignored in encouraging extra-marital sex. On the other hand, racial and social ideology that led to sterilization worked against drive for population growth - limited by Hitler’s ‘aryan’ demands. Overall, women’s experience under the Nazis was more complex and varied than that suggested by Nazi ideology and propaganda - for instance, Nazi women’s organizations offered women an important public role outside the ‘private sphere’ of home, children etc.
  • Italy - failure of Battle for Births - the birth rate continued to fall. The population did rise slightly, but this was as a result of falling death rates and less emigration to the US - not from more births. Also, failure to reverse the growing trend of a greater number of women at university and working in public sector jobs.

Propaganda, media and culture:

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Both states used propaganda to encourage a ‘cult of personality’ around the leader:

  • Italy and ‘Il duce’ - propaganda stressing Mussolini’s greatness, his ability at sport, that he worked all the time, was loved by the people, etc. Fascists used mass parades and rituals, with classical imagery to revive spirit of Roman Empire, to try and increase M’s popularity. Generally successful in doing so, but not a complete success as people still joked about Mussolini (train story from foreign visitor)
  • Germany - similar cult of the Fuehrer established in Germany, for instance a biography of Hitler sold 420,000 copies from 1932-40, and Hitler’s birthday was celebrated with mass rallies and parades. For both states rallies, sports and festivals played an important role in celebrating the leader and deepening commitment to the regime.

Both states attempted to exert control over the media, and make use of the new forms of technology that were spreading in this period to reach out to the masses.

  • Germany - Hitler and Goebels as propaganda experts, aware of the central role it had played in the Nazi rise to power: their “sharpest weapon in conquering the state”. 1933, from the beginning, a Ministry for Propaganda set up with Goebbels at its head and 14,500 employees. The press was initially in private hands but censored by the Nazis, but increasingly taken over by the party which by 1939 controlled 2/3 of the press. Newsreels in the cinema were a crucial part of Nazi propaganda. Nazis encouraged growth of radio - by 1939 over 70% had radios compared with under 25% in 1932 - and made vital use of it in their propaganda.
  • Italy - also saw control of the media as vital, esp. as Mussolini had been a journalist first. 1926 saw suppression of the opposition press. Fascists did not take control of the press and owned only 10% of the media, however they did seek to control the content of what the papers wrote. Initially, little emphasis on radio and film as important mediums in the 1920s and early 30s but this changed towards the end of the 1930’s. Mussolini’s use of propaganda not as systematic as Nazi Germany’s - limits of fascist propaganda can be seen in failure to win popular support for alliance with Germany followed from the mid-1930s.

Both states also tried to control the arts, but the Nazis exercised much greater control than the Fascists:

  • Italy and relatively limited control over art - no major artist was forced to leave the country. Also, fascists were divided over what style of art to encourage, with modernists arguing with neo-classicists. Significantly, no particular ‘fascist’ culture emerged in this period. Greater intellectual freedom than Nazi Germany - so long as universities outwardly conformed, they were left to their own devices. Furthermore, the liberal philosopher Bernard Croce was allowed to criticize the regime in his journal, whereas in Germany he would no doubt have been imprisoned or worse. This greater toleration could either show the weakness of the fascist regime, or its strength in its ability to compromise (also seen with the Lateran agreement with the church.
  • Germany - all art controlled and subjected to Nazi approval. All artists had to join a Nazi association to work - and therefore to fulfil Nazi ideals in terms of ‘race’ and politics - and many German artists, particularly those who were so experimental during the Weimar period, left the country to escape this creative restriction. Clear Nazi guidelines on art, which should be clear, heroic and Nazi in character - modernist and experimental art was dismissed by the Nazis in social-Darwinist terms as ‘degenerate’. This generally led to art and culture that was mediocre and uninspiring, reflecting the lack of creative freedom allowed.

Religion and mass murder:

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Key point of contrast between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy can be seen in terms of the state’s relationship with religion, both Christianity and Judaism.

  • Mussolini may have disliked the church in private, but he recognized his need for its support in order to gain backing of the nation. 1929 Lateran agreement with the Catholic Church as Mussolini’s major political achievement - gave the Vatican city to the church and re-introduced compulsory religious education in schools as a means of securing the support of the Church - key means of increasing M’s support on a national level.
  • Hitler also disliked Christianity (he wished to replace it with Nazi ideology in the long term) but recognized the short term need to publicly acknowledge it. To try and control the Church a new national church was set up (protestant) and an agreement was made with the Catholic church. However, when faced with criticism from the Church the Nazis would arrest individuals involved and threaten to act against the organizations. Churches forced to compromise pragmatically with Hitler’s regime in order to survive.
  • Mussolini - only introduced anti-Semitic laws in 1938, and showed no signs of anti-Semitism before this. Historians have therefore suggested that he only introduced these measures to ‘kow-tow’ to Hitler after the Rome-Berlin axis brought closer relations between the nations. The laws banned marriage between Jews and non-Jews, barred Jews from working in the civil service or teaching, and excluded Jewish children from state schools. Laws proved a big mistake - deeply unpopular with the Church, the general public and even members of the party criticizing them.
  • Hitler’s aim of building an Aryan volksgemeinschaft was based on an idea of racial purity that demanded that ‘alien elements’ - in social, racial or ideological terms - must be removed. Nazi policy followed from imprisonment and sterilization through to labour camps and eventually the ‘final solution’ of the Holocaust. In 1933 the Jews lost citizenship, 1941 they were moved to the camps, 1942 the final solution put in place. Historiographical debate about how far ordinary Germans were “Hitler’s willing executioners’ (Daniel Goldhagen), but clear that mass murder on an organized scale that involved the killing of millions was not something that happened in Mussolini’s Italy.