Consumerism as a Tool to Advance Fascist Movement: Contrast Between Italy and Germany

BY Vadzim Malatok

When Benito Mussolini ascended to power, Italy was in political turmoil. Although the fascist insurgency was gathering momentum, the Duce’s overriding objective was to form a national identity that hinged on the relations of various social classes and that of the citizens with the state. According to Victoria de Grazia, the totalitarian regime resorted to indoctrination by means of “expansion of a mass consumer market and growth of the mass media.” Conversely, Nazism’s solution to the social question lay in the regime’s need for public support and legitimization, which is reflected in the state’s policy intended “to deliver a high standard of living to working-class Germans.” The contrast in approaches between the two authoritarian regimes can be explained in terms of economic sustainability.

First off, the newly elected Nazi Party chiefly concerned itself with the eradication of the cultural diversity and reduction of unemployment, which were regarded as the by-product of the Weimar Republic. To accomplish this, the Nazi regime “aggressively promoted production over consumption”and according to Shelley Baranowski, “[honored] workers according to their ability to produce for nation and race.” In Italy, on the other hand, deep economic slump led to the government’s commitment to promote the “modern” approach to consumerism that would “supplement the inadequate social security coverage by the state pension” and provide “another source for government investment programs.”

Thus, the Italian government appraised its workingmen on the basis of their accessibility “to a slowly developing national mass market”as opposed to their relationship to production as was done in Germany. Moreover, the prolonged economic stagnation created a few obstacles for the Fascist Party to increase the consumer purchasing power and the authoritarian regime resorted to dissemination of propaganda through written publications and state-run radio that “taught” its citizens how to modestly spend and increase savings. Ultimately, the only beneficiary from this policy was the regime itself.

In Germany, on the other hand, the honoring of workers was done through Strength through Joy– the Nazi leisure-time organization. Baranowski elucidates that the organization’s primary goal was to “guide workers to purposeful and restorative leisure that stimulated productivity.” Tourism became one of the main distinctive features of the Nazi mode of consumption. Not only tourism allowed Germans to observe the dire economic conditions that foreigners lived in, it created positive images of Nazism, domestically and abroad, due to its perceived “accomplishments.”

While both regimes strived for the indoctrination of its citizens, only one proved to be more effective than the other, and Baranowski succinctly summarizes it by indicating that a “greater opposition to fascism existed in Italy than in Germany.” However, is that a compelling enough measurement of effectiveness? 

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