More Italians Needed

I lost my memory. Anti-fascist graffiti, Torino.

At present, the population of Italy amounts to about 44 million souls and it is increasing at the rate of about 400,000 a year. The continuous increase in the population of Italy, outstripping, as it does, the economic capacity of the country, has produced a dangerous situation.

It is, however, strange that a country which claims colonies because of “population pressure” is doing all that lies in its power to aggravate this evil. In many of his speeches and writings, Mussolini has expounded his views on this question. In the Chamber, in 1927, he said:

“Italy needs 60 million inhabitants. Some unintelligent people may say there are too many of us. The intelligent will reply: there are too few of us. I claim that the numbers of a nation condition its political, and consequently its economic and moral power. To count for something Italy must emerge with a population of not less than 60 million inhabitants at the threshold of the second half of this century.”

In an article, published in the Gerarchia, in September 1928, Mussolini again expounded his theory of population in these words:

“The thesis that quantity may be replaced by quality is false; false and stupid is the thesis that a lesser population signifies higher prosperity… Sixty million Italians will make the weight of their numbers and their force felt in the history of the world.’’

The Fascist state has adopted a definite policy of stimulating the birth rate and increasing the population as rapidly as possible. Festivals of marriages and fecundity are celebrated in which the Duce himself participates, personally. Railway fare is reduced for honeymoon couples. Prizes are awarded to parents of a large number of children. Taxation is adjusted according to the size of the family. Many of the taxes decrease as the number of children increases. Parents of ten living sons do not pay any taxes. Childless spouses have to pay a higher inheritance tax than spouses with one child, and those with at least two children are completely exempt from inheritance taxes.

Cheap homes are allotted by the local authorities in order of preference according to the size of the family. Some municipalities grant reductions for gas, electricity, etc. Medals and diplomas and sometimes even premiums are offered for prolificacy. Municipalities organise productivity competitions and award prizes to the families which produce, most babies within a given number of years. The Fascist government maintains a regular department for the protection of maternity and childhood, known as the Opera Nationale della Matemita e della Infanzia. Abortion is prohibited and severe punishment imposed on those who violate the law.

Birth control is forbidden and the propaganda in its favour is put under heavy penalty by the new Fascist Penal Code. Here the Catholic church, too, comes to the assistance of the Fascist state, and declares that birth control is a sin, and procreation an “act of God”.

Marriages are being encouraged and bachelors are discriminated against in many ways. Between the ages of 26 and 65 heavy taxes are imposed upon them. In April 1934, the income tax on bachelors, which was already very high, was raised from 26 to 50 per cent of their incomes. In the Government

Services they are clearly at a disadvantage. Appointments and promotions depend, to a large extent, upon the marital status of the individual. In November 1933, the Duce issued an order that all bachelors who held offices in the party or wished to be nominated as candidates in the parliamentary election, must marry, otherwise, they would lose their offices or not be nominated as candidates.

Obviously, the population policy of Fascist Italy is based on military and political considerations and is quite in keeping with the imperialist tendencies of new Italy. The same considerations determine Fascist attitude towards emigration.

Before World War War I, a large number of Italians used to emigrate every year to other countries, principally to America and Argentine. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the average annual emigration rose to over 200,000, and during the first fourteen years of the present century, it reached the enormous figure of 600,000. But during the post-war period, largely due to the immigration policy of nearly all countries which formerly admitted Italian emigrants, the number dwindled, considerably. Then Italians began to emigrate, in fairly large number, to France and her African colonies. The French became alarmed at the growing immigration of Italians in the south. France did not seem willing to have any more Italians. She did not like to create an unemployment problem on a gigantic scale, from which unlike other countries she had not yet suffered.

Apart from this consideration, the Italians, who under the Fascist regime emigrated to France or her colonies, were staunch nationalists; they were not prepared to merge themselves into the French nation and forget their own nationality, of which they were so proud. France, in accordance with her traditional policy, would either turn them into Frenchmen or would not have them at all. The question of the nationality of Italians in France and in French colonies, especially in Tunis, where Italians, by the way, formed the majority of the population, was one of the most important causes of post-war Franco-Italian tension.

According to French law, the third generation of all immigrants was to be legally regarded as French. The Fascist government insisted that Italian nationality was inalienable and permanent, wheresoever an Italian might have his domicile. The result of French legislation was that Italian emigration to France and her colonies very nearly came to an end. Only in 1935, France made a concession in this respect, when it was provided in the Rome Pact that in Tunis, all children, born of Italian parents up to 1966, would retain their nationality.

The Fascists themselves do not consider emigration as a very happy solution of their population problem, for in this way Italy is deprived of her best soldiers and labourers, those who emigrate being young and hardy people. Although Mussolini had once recognized emigration as “a physiological necessity for the Italian people”, after a few years of Fascist rule the traditional policy was reversed and the government began to discourage emigration, even while there were still possibilities in this direction. Motives of prestige and military strength were responsible for it. Manpower must be conserved at all costs. Mussolini is very particular in retaining the sons of Italy, for according to him, “Italy must appear on the threshold of the second half of the century with a population of not less than 60,000,000 inhabitants. If we fail… we shall not found an empire, we shall be degraded to a colony.”

Signor Grandi explained the Fascist attitude towards emigration, in a speech in the Chamber on 31 December 1927: “We, as Fascists, must have the courage to say that emigration is an evil so long as it is, as at present, directed towards countries of foreign sovereignty. Emigration is necessary, but it should be emigration to Italian countries and possessions only.”’

But the Italian possessions mostly consisted of deserts and barren mountains. No wonder the Italian emigrants did not like the idea of exchanging France or America for their own colonies.

Fascism has not been content to restrict emigration by means of propaganda and legislation; it has even induced Italians living in foreign countries to return home. Drastic reductions are granted in steamship and railway fares for repatriation.

On the basis of what has been stated above, it becomes difficult to say whether Italian imperialism is a result of ‘population pressure’, or ‘population pressure’ an outcome of the imperialist policy of Fascist Italy.

Adapted from The Quest for Empire (1937) by Mahmud Husain. Published under a Creative Commons license. Photography courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.