Posts Tagged ‘‘Ruralization’’

Thatcher, Mussolini and Manipulation of the Economy to Destroy Working Class Opposition

April 18, 2014

Mussolini Pic

Margaret Thatcher destroyed much of Britain’s manufacturing base, and particularly the coal industry, in order to break the power of the trade unions that had brought down Edward Heath’s government. Kittysjones has recently blogged about the academic report into Thatcher’s ‘calculated immiseration’ of the working class for ideological reasons and the profit of the upper and middle classes. See her post ‘ Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”’ at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/.

Mussolini did something similar in Italy. Apart from taking violent action against the Socialist party and the trade unions, who were attacked and their offices wrecked in a concerted campaign of violent intimidation, the Duce also attempted to alter the demographic and class structure of Italian society to halt the increasing emergence of urban opposition. He pursued a deliberate ‘ruralisation’ policy, intended to stem and reverse immigration to the towns from the countryside. He believed that the ideal societies were those of peasant proprietors. These were more fertile than urban societies, and more docile and supportive of autocratic regimes. Sophisticated urbanites, on the other hand, were too clever and too willing to discuss and criticise. And like Margaret Thatcher, the prosperity of the citizens counted for little. Denis Mack Smith in his biography of Musso states:

Prosperity, as he had to confess, was not very high on his list of priorities except for its propaganda value; national strength was far more important. He was expecting a war at any time after 1934 and wanted the country to become self-sufficient in food before then. This was one reason why he hoped Italy would remain mainly agricultural: urbanization was threatening to endanger the food supply of a rapidly growing community. Another hazard was that as people moved to the towns they began to think and talk too much. Peasants, he asserted, were more necessary to fascism than intellectuals or town artisans, both of which latter categories were, as he had to admit, unenthusiastic about his regime if not strongly hostile.

…. the healthiest nations were those based on a population of small proprietors who worked ‘obediently, and preferably in silence’. On the other hand, urban conditions encouraged not only disobedience but a wish for higher wages and greater comfort which, in turn, would result in smaller families, all of which would be profoundly unfascist. To ‘ruralize Italy’ would, he knew, be immensely costly and might take half a century, but it would have to be effected. Less should be spent on improving conditions in the towns because ‘cities are pernicious and parasitic’; even in the countryside, he thought it necessary to restrict improvements in popular housing because better conditions might result in fewer children being born. Such beliefs became an obsession with him. He order the prefects to stop any move away from the land and to use force if necessary. Rome should not become an industrial city but remain the centre of an agricultural region, and many other important towns should be forcibly reduced in size. But he had chosen a hopelessly unequal battle and the towns went on expanding as before. At first he falsified the census returns to conceal this untoward fact, but eventually went into reverse and decided to spend a great deal of money to make Rome into a great centre of industry.

Thus Thatcher, the Tories and the Italian Fascists were determined to sacrifice their countries’ industrial development in the interests of creating their ideal societies, societies which consisted of the poor obeying their social superiors without question, and where critical, urban working and intellectual classes were highly unwelcome.

There is, however, one major difference between the two: Mussolini abandoned this policy when it could not be achieved, and promoted Rome’s industrial development. Maggie and the Tories were successful, and Britain’s manufacturing base has contracted ever since.