Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mussolini's Battles: The Battle for Births


During the 1920’s to 30’s Italian politics was dominated by the National Fascist Party. The party promoted far right wing ideology and led by a charismatic and though World War I veteran Benito Mussolini. Four years into his leadership of Italy, he commenced series of economic battles to address certain issue in the economy. First was the Battle of Grain which was followed by the Battle for the Lira. In 1927, he launched another battle – the Battle for Births.

The Battle for Births was a sociological engineering meant to drastically increase the population of Italy. Certain targets were made in order to achieve its goal. The Battle was meant to increase the Italian population to 60 million by 1950. It also aimed to create a standard of twelve children for every family in Italy.

There were several reasons for the Battle for Births. First, there was the economic reason. A large population would mean larger market for goods and services. An increase in population would mean that local industries could flourish within Italy. Another reason was militaristic. With more Italian boys, it meant more available soldiers to fight for Mussolini’s future wars. Moreover, the increase of population would allow Italy to send people to their future captured lands to settle and cement Italian rule. Lastly, the Battle for Births had political reasons to be enforced. As a conservative far right man, Mussolini did not like contraceptives and abortions. This was in lined to the beliefs of one of the most influential institutions in Italy – the Catholic Church. And so, the Battle of Births was a way to display his far right beliefs as well as to gain the support of the Catholic Church for his regime. So, the Battle of Births was an opportunity for Mussolini to improve the economy, prepare for his militaristic ambitions, and secure the support of the Catholic Church.

With the Battle for Births, government policies were aligned in order to secure the success of it. Marriage was a way to create more children. Bachelors were taxed tremendously in order to force them into marriage. High taxation was a way of incentive as well as generated huge funds. The taxation of bachelors were so high that in 1939, it accumulated 230 million Italian Liras. Additional incentives include lowering of required age for marriage, from late 20’s to early 30’s down to early 20’s.  However, having wedding ceremonies were expensive. And so, the government began to issue marriage loans to couples. And to repay the loan, the couple must give birth to children. The more children they bore the lower the needed amount to be paid. The men who were married were given incentives depending to the number of children. One to six children would give the father lower taxes and tax exemption if he had 6 children or higher. For the family as a whole, allowances were given to families with two children while special awards were handed out for those with a large family size.

There were also other laws issued to increase fertility. Homosexuality was outlawed in 1931. Divorced was also banned. Abortion, contraception, and sterilization was already banned in 1926, but it was further clamped down during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

The government also made efforts to realign the position of women in society and workforce. The Battle of Births was a nightmare for the feminist movement. The fascist government saw women only as mothers and not as workers. They made it visible during the Battle for Births. In 1933, the government of Mussolini enforced a quota, allocating only 10% of jobs to women.

In the end, al efforts were in vain. In 1950, five years after the fall and death of Il Duce Benito Mussolini, the population fell short of the target. From the 60 million target, the population of Italy was only over 47 million. Also, only 10% of women could give birth gave birth to children in the 1930’s and 40’s. Other measures, such as lowering women participation in the work, also failed to be fully successful. In 1922, the 33% of the workforce were women. In 1936, with the policies in place, it decreased to 28%, but this meant that the laws only met limited success. All in all, the Battle of Births was a failure.

Caprotti, F. Mussolini’s Cities. New York: Cambria Press, 2007. 

Knight, P. Mussolini and Fascism. New York: Routledge, 2003. 

McDonald, H. Mussolini and Fascism. United Kingdom: Stanley Thornes (Publishers), Ltd., 1999. 

Robson, M. Access to History: Italy – The Rise of Fascism, 1915 – 1945. London: Hodder Education, 2006. 

Townly, E. Mussolini and Italy. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2002.

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