Fascist Symbols & Ideology

The fasces was an ancient symbol, dating back to the Etruscans in Italy and used as a symbol of authority in ancient Rome. The major Etruscan cities occasionally appear to have joined forces against a common enemy, but on the whole they were independent and had no major unifying organization. In effect, they were a non-political confederation of separate city-states. Each city-state had a ruler called a Lucomones, in early times a king, later, under Roman control, a high priest—an annually elected magistrate chosen from the nobility. Each Lucomones was helped by twelve assistants called lictors. In the confederation's religious festivals, each city-state was represented by a stick of beechwood, bound together and carried by magistrates. These sticks, often wrapped around a double-bladed axe were called the fasces.

Mercury Dime, reverse

Like the swastika, which has an ancient decorative origin but was ruined for all time by Hitler's use of the symbol, the fasces was debased as an emblem of state authority by Mussolini. Prior to the rise of Fascism in Italy, the fasces appeared on the Mercury dime minted in the United States and coined from 1916 to 1945. It has the traditional axe in the center, although the axe is not double-bladed. Still, it looks almost exactly like many of the Fascist images found in Italy, as seen in the fountain below.

Right: Roosevelt Dime, reverse

          Fascist Fountain, 1934

Adolph A. Weinman, the man who designed the Mercury dime, did place an olive branch around the fasces. The combined symbols are usually interpreted to refer both to America's military readiness and to our desire for peace.

On the Roosevelt dime, first issued in 1946 and the one commonly in circulation today, rather than the axe and bundle of rods in the center, we have a torch with the flame of liberty, and both an olive and an oak branch, the latter said to signify strength and independence. John Ray Sinnock, the designer, transformed an oppressive symbol into one of freedom, while at the same time retaining a reminiscence of the fasces in the shape of the torch .

From the beginning, Mussolini was adept at using propaganda , slogans, and imagery to further his cause. Prior to the war, when Socialist Party officials removed him as editor of their journal Avanti and expelled him from the party because of his interventionist appeals, he put out his own paper, Il Popolo d'Italia ("The People of Italy"), in which he continued to call for Italian entry into the war on the Allied side. This was his first clear step moving from the left to the right of the political spectrum.

To carry out his campaign for intervention, he also organized formerly leftist groups into bands called fasci. In 1919, when he returned to civilian life after the war, he reorganized the fasci into the fasci di combattimento ("fighting groups") to attract war veterans and try to gain control of Italy.


           Squadrista, 1923

Mussolini's black-shirts used their clubs—the manganello—to beat up opponents. The words on the truncheon above—"I don't know if you see what I mean"—provide a clear indication of its use to intimidate. Note also the label "I'm looking for a Communist," the jug of oil, and the pin with the words "Long live"next to images of the fasces and the manganello.

One example of the use of castor oil: A female teacher who did not follow the Fascist educational program was forced to drink a liter of castor oil and dance on the desktop in front of her students until her bowels loosened. The ultimate in humiliation.

Marshall Pietro Badoglio, an early supporter of Mussolini who eventually replaced him as Prime Minister, is said to have instituted the practice of pouring concrete down the throats of antifascists.

Fascist squads broke strikes and disrupted opposition meetings in 1919 and 1920 while the government did nothing.

The Socialists were so incompetent at responding to physical violence that the left-wing broke away and formed the Partito Comunista Italiano in January of 1921. Despite these activities, the extreme right-wing politicians still failed to dominate the May 1921 elections. Only thirty-five fascists, Mussolini among them, gained seats in the Chamber of Deputies while the liberal and democratic parties maintained a plurality.  Having failed to succeed through the existing system, Mussolini formally established the National Fascist party in November of 1921. The distinctive garb of his followers, of course, was the black shirt, by which they are known.

            Balilla, 1926

Oath of the Balilla, 1936 (Anno XIV), 14th Year of the Fascist Regime [op. stands for "opera"—the Opera Nazionale Balilla, the organization's full name).

Mussolini extended his program to include youth groups. From age 1-6, children were enrolled in the Sons of the Wolf. These kids wore grayish-green shorts, a black shirt, and a trench cap. From 6-12, one joined the Balilla, where indoctrination with the Fascist philosopy of force began. The term itself came from the nickname of Giovanni Battista Perasso, a boy in Genova who threw a stone at a group of Austrian soldiers, thus instigating an uprising that expelled the Austrians from Liguria.

Other groups included the Avanguardisti (age 12-16), the Giovanni Fascisti (16 up) and, for college students, the Gruppi Universitari Fascisti, whose motto was "libro e moschetto" (book and gun).

In 1931, all university professors had to take an oath to “the King, his royal successors, and the Fascist regime” if they wanted to keep their jobs, Only 11 professors refused to comply with the order and were dismissed.

Many Italians wore the pin of the National Fascist Party (PNF), but joking referred to the letters as "Per Necessità Familiare." The party pin was also called "la cimice" (the bedbug).

As seen to the left, Roman numerals were used for the years of the Fascist Era, which dated from the March on Rome (October 28, 1922). The new chronology was instituted by Mussolini on October 25, 1926, and after October 29, 1927, was made compulsory on all official documents.

Avanguardisti                                                                                        Mussolini, "Libro e moschetto," 1935


Above: Italian boys kick Africans in the butt.

Right: A postcard shows an Italian boy removing the chains from an African child, while a girl to the far left looks on with marvel.

Italy's invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) on October 3, 1935 resulted in extensive use of propaganda. On May 9, 1936, Mussolini formally annexed the region after what he called “the greatest colonial war that history has recorded” and proclaimed King Victor Emanuel III Emperor of Abyssinia,

It was a war won with the use of poison gas and aircraft against a virtually defenseless people. One general would take African chieftains up in airplanes and drop them to their deaths below.

Only 1,537 Italians died, which Mussolini considered insufficient, because it was not enough to harden Italian breasts. Within a month, Abyssinia, along with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, was incorporated into a single colony, Italian East Africa.

Click to view a full-size image of the 10 points of Fascist Racism

In 1938, following the German example, Mussolini's government passed anti-Semitic laws in Italy that discriminated against Jews in all sectors of public and private life and prepared the way for the deportation of some 20% of Italy's Jews to German death camps during the war. Many people are unaware that Italy also had concentration camps within its borders.

Among the 10 points of Fascist Racism are the following:

• The population of Italy today is Aryan.

• The racial composition of Italy has remained unchanged for a millennium.

• By now there exists a pure Italian race.

• Jews do not belong to the Italian race.

• No hybridism must contaminate the pure Italian race.

Above: A squad of Militiamen, 1938.

Right: The Duce's private security service, the Moschettieri, perform the "passo romano."



Left: A group of Fascist Militia parade in front of one of Mussolini's slogans:"Believe, Obey, Fight."

Mussolini's program was usually divulged in the language of sharp military orders. Great attention was paid to uniforms and sartorial regulations. Parades and ceremonies were frequent. Achille Starace, Party Secretary from 1931-1939, crammed party bulletins with rigid rules, most of his own invention. He was called "the walking medal factory" by Mussolini. The Italian goose-step or "passo romano" was one of his many innovations. Following Mussolini's execution, Starace was brought to Piazzale Loreto and shot. He was one of the hierarchs who were hung with Mussolini and his mistress.


In order to strengthen his dictatorship, Mussolini created a party apparatus that terrorized and suppressed all opposition parties. He instituted a “Voluntary Militia for National Security” (MVSN) and also set up a special court that abolished freedom of the press and of assembly.

Most frightening of all, he established a secret police called the OVRA. The name is possibly intentionally obscure, although it is most commonly said to come from the words “Opera di Vigilanza per la Repressione dell’Antifascismo.” The agents of the OVRA permeated all aspects of life in Italy.

The Militia's Ten Commandments appear to the left. Among them is the statement that "Mussolini ha sempre ragione." Mussolini is always right.

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