Italian Economy in 1924-1936

Mussolini was famous for his claims of a planned economy, and social harmony in Italy. Fascism was also claimed to be an ideology of change, and dynamism. However Mussolini’s Italy had few economic successes between 1924 - 1936, and it remained without a developed industrial base, an issue fundamentally ignored by Mussolini.

Mussolini did not actually aim for development, and economic growth, rather an economy which would increase his personal power and help maintain it. Essential to this therefore was for Mussolini to seek economic stability to ensure political stability. This aim perhaps suggests the necessity for prosperity, however like so many of Mussolini’s policies propaganda would be as good a substitute as any.

In order to not only increase power, and support, it was necessary for Mussolini to establish clear support for economic elites of both the industrialists and landowners. In other words policies which were pro-private property, pro-private profit, against market regulation, and policies which controlled workers and unions. These policies which protected the interests of the bourgeoisie were undoubtfully popular with other elites including the church, army and monarchy.

The fascist state was to be a military one, and a clear goal of the fascist state was not only an empire, but war. War was seen as something inherently good that would create a strong Italian people. Therefore Mussolini aimed to create an economy in support of armament production, and other industries geared towards helping the military such as steel production.

Finally Mussolini wanted to encourage economic autarky which would not only support the war machine, but encourage national pride and superiority by denying the need for imports from foreign nations.

To implement these goals Mussolini persued a series of goals which in some ways were beneficial to the social and economic development of Italy, however like so many of Mussolini’s ‘achievements’ they often were failures too. Key to Mussolini’s policies were a series of “battles”.

The “battle for land” set about clearing marshland so it could be used for farming and other uses. A success of this was the draining of the Pontine Marshes. When finished housing and roads were built on it, in other marshes the reclaimed land was essential to the “battle for grain”. The draining process was labour extensive and was therefore successful in employing many, and also the result was of an increase in infrastructure, and thus economic growth even though the land was in reality limited. This was also a success for propaganda, showing Mussolini was achieving things and developing a modern Italy.

A second battle, the “battle for the lira”, was rather more farcical. Mussolini believing a weak lira was not suitable for a powerful nation revaluated it from 150 to the £1 to 90 to the £1. This had a negative impact on Italy’s export industries causing exports to fall due to their now high price abroad. This led naturally to unemployment, but also a fall in the balance of payments. This was a disaster for economic growth, and much of Italy’s manufacturing industry. This can therefore be cited as a failure for the development of Italy, and economic growth, with its only benefit in propaganda, and perhaps hollow prestige.

In agriculture there was a “battle for grain” which was part of Mussolini’s goal of autarky. The “battle for grain” basically aimed to make Italy self-sufficient in grain that it had previously had to import. To help in this effort the government offered grants for tractors, fertilisers, and other machinery for wheat production, and free advice on farming techniques. Farmers were also guaranteed a high price for their production thus helping a decent living standard for farmers, however this had a negative impact on Italy’s poorest who now found bread increasingly more expensive. Grain production only increased slightly from 5.2 million in the 1920’s to 7 million in the 1930’s. This also came at the cost of other crops such as grapes, and grain was often grown in areas where the circumstances were not suitable. However it did improve economic growth, and mechanised farming in many areas.

The final battle was more social, than economic. The “battle for births” would be a key issue in providing a labour force for the future Italian economy, which would be essential to the creation of the long term fascist