Italian Fascist Youth Group


Figure 1.--This Italian boy wears the uniform of the Italian youth movement. Note the long shorts and high sockings. This suggests the photograph was taken during the winter, probably in the late 1920s or early 30s.

The 20th Century has seen the rise of two basic types of boys uniformed youth groups. The Scouts have been the most important. Totalitarian political movements in the 1920s, however, sought to cretate their own scout-like groups that they could use to indoctrinate virtually all young Italians in the principles of Fascism. When fascist and communist parties seized power, they often forced competing youth groups like the Scouts to close.

Background

Benito Muscolini's Italian Fascists seized power in 1924??. They established a comprehensive youth movement for all ages from 8 years old on. I know little about this group or what the Fascist policy was toward Scouting groups. Hopefully Italian visitors to HBC will eventually provide us some insights.

Internationalism

Unlike the Scouts, the Italian Fascist youth movement had no international orientation. One element of Fascist ideology was ravid nationalism and intolerance toward other national and racial groups. There were, however, some Italian groups like the Balilla prganized outside of Italy. They were organized among Italians living in other countries and the nembershipmwas strictly limited to children of Italian ancestry. We know of no organized effort to develop contacts with youth groups in other countries, even Fasist youth groups. This included the period before and after the War. Granted our information is very limited and we do not yet have any definitive information on this. The major issue here is the relationship with the Hitler Youth. We do note photographs of Hitler Youth and Ballial boys together. We are uncertain, however, just what these images represent.

Fascism in Italy

Fascism first developed in Italy during the period of economic dislocaion and social unrest which followed World War I. The Fascists coined the term Totalitarian and while Musollini may have expired toward that goal, he never created a truly totalitarian state, but rather a personal dictatorship and authoritarian state. Unlike other political movements, Fascism does not appear to have develoed out of any clearly discernable 19th century tradition. THe Fascists first appear after World War I in 1919 and led by Mussolini managed to seized power in 1922-25. The poltical orientation of Italian Fascism was initially on the Socialist left, but with a strong nationalistic strain. From the beginning the Fascists believd in using violence to achieve thir goals, but their were also elements of idealism and anti-materialism at least in the ideology. Fascists supported Italian colonialism, but initially supported Communist ideals such as opposition to imperialism and racism. Mussolini as il Duce shifted the party to the right in a series of practical and profitable compromises with the country's important institutions. Italian Fascists invented the term "totalitarian" for Fascist Italy, hoever, Mussolini never carried out a comprehensive Fascist revolution. Rather he ruled as an authoritarian leader in a state that some limited pluralist features. After Mussolini's elevation to power, Fascism began its development of a authoritarian form of social organization. Within a few years, representative democracy in Italy had been replaced by a centralized autocracy which at its apex was the absolute dictatorship of Mussolini in whom were concentrated all the principal functions of Government. Directly under him was the Grand Council of Fascism, constituting the political general staff of the regime and of the Fascist Party. The Fascist Party was legally identified with the state, and all other parties were outlawed.


Figure 2.--The Italian Balilla and Vanguards underwent military training at a very young age. One wonders, given the performance of the Italian army about the effectiveness of the training.

Activities

Children and youth in Fascist Italy were raised with religious, military, para-military and academic training. Children were expected to be off the street and persuing their studies. Schol was conducted 6 days a week and there was religious and para-military training on the weekends. The children were taught to respect God, country, King and Queen, Il Duce, his parents, and all authority, especially the police. We have very limited information on Balilla activities at this time. Certainly available photographs suggest that the organization placed great emphasis on drill and inspection. Many images show the boiys lined up or marching in uniforms. We also see them participating in parades, although we rarely know what the occassion was. We also note sport and athletic activities in what looks to be a summer camp environment. Para-military traing was also coducted at camps. These camps were held dyring tghe summer and school vacations. At this point our assessment of Balilla activities is entirely based on available photographs. We have been unable to find any literature yet describing Balilla activities. As the organization included boys through age 18, there must have been a wide range of activities based on the different ages. Para-military training was an important part of the program. There were also activities associated with the different specialized sections.

Name

The Fascist Youth organization was founded only a few months after Mussolini's march on Rome (October 1922). The initial organization was for boys 8 to 14 years of age. They were named the "Balilla" after a heroic young boy of that name. During the Austrian occupation of Genoa during 1746. The boy incited a riot against the Austrian soldiers by throwing the first stone at an artillery piece. This led to a city-wide riot that drove the Austrians out of the city. Mussolini saw the boy's courage was the perfect image for Italian youth. As the Fascist Youth organization developed, the Balilla became the name of certain age groups. The precise name of the Fascist Youth organization as a whole was the "Gioventu Italiana Del'Littorio"which meant The Fascists Youth of the Lictors. The Lictor was bundle of rods with the protruding axe blade, carried in ancient Rome by the Magistrates to demonstrate their power of life and death in the courts.


Figure 3.--The Italians boys are kitted up with field gear and rifles. I'm not sure what kind of weapons they were, but presumably there were live fire practices even with boys of this age.

Fascist Youth and Social Policies

Competition with Scouting

Italian Scouting

The first activities of the Boy Scouts in Italy took place in Rome in 1912, under the sponsorship of the Lazio Track & Field Society. This original effort led to the formation of the GEI (Boy Scouts of Italy--Giovani Esploratori Italiani), which was officially founded in Rome on June 30, 1913 by Carlo Colombo. The GEI soon spread to all parts of the nation. In the beginning it embodied all Italian Boy Scouts, including those who had previously joined a Scout-like organization adherents to the REI. It had been inspired by Baden Powell's English organization and in 1910 had brought the first Scout uniform to Italy. In 1914 a number of groups for girls came into being that went on to form the Italian National Union of Girl Guides (UNGEI). On May 5, 1915, the GEI came under the highest government patronage. Chief patron of the GEI was the head of state (formerly the King of Italy). Other patrons included deputies of the Ministry of Education, the Office of Foreign Affairs, the Home Office and the War Office (now the Ministry of Defense). On December 21, 1916 the GEI was acknowledged for its educational role on behalf of the nation's youth and became officially a national institution. From the earliest years, the members of Italy's Scouting and Guide organizations rendered distinguished service in times of local or national calamity, and received many citations for valor.

Scouting supressed

In spite of this, in 1927, all Scout and Guide units in the country were invited to close under pressure from the Fascist regime, which substituted its own youth program, the "national Balilla organization" (only in italian) (a poor imitation of Scouting). Translation of the last document before the dissolution. To my good Italian scouts of Rovereto! The time has come to set aside your work as duty-bound volunteers - and to leave it behind!!! In the name of Italy - today the same as yesterday--carry out your duty to submit unconditionally to the laws of the land - and tomorrow even more then yesterday, it will be necessary for you to watch out for yourselves - if you are to stay on the shining path of honour and unbroken faith as good Scouts of Italy. May you always be guided by the solemn promise that you have made to "LOVE GOD - PARENTS - COUNTRY". Rovereto, the 7th of April 1927. Commissioner G.E.I. - Diego Costa Even so, the spirit of Scouting was not completely extinguished. In many villages and cities, groups were secretly formed, whose members wished to remain faithful to Baden Powell's original movement. This time in our history became known as the "Silent Jungle".


Figure 4.--Italian Baillil group participating in full dress uniform at a Fascist rally.

Mussolini si riprometteva di conseguire monopolio politico-educativo delle masse giovanili oltre che "fascistizzando" la scuola (intervento su professori, programmi e libri di testo), costituendo appositi enti che formassero i giovani in senso fascista parallelamente alla scuola: l'Opera Nazionale Balilla (da 0 a 18 anni) e i GUF (dai 19 in poi). Tutte le organizzazioni giovanili concorrenti vennero soppresse. Nel 1928 Mussolini soppresse anche gli Scout di matrice cattolica.

Gender

Italian Fascists also had an organization for girls called the "Fascio Femminile". It also included children to age 18, but was divided into only 3 groups ratherv than the five groups for the boys. We know very little about the girl's section of the Balilla. Almost all available images show boys and girls separate. The only exception we note are very small groups such as units in foreign countries. The Fascists like the NAZIs had little respect for women. Their appropriate role was to have babies and stay home and look after the children. Thus the program for the girls must have been very different than the program for the boys. We have very little actual information on the girl's program.

Fascist Youth Organization

The Italian Fasist Party began training a a war-like spirit very early in an Italian's boy's life. From the age 8 years to 18 years. Italian boys were expected to belong to the various youth organisations:

Figli della Lupa: The Figli della Lupa or Children of the Wolf. This sound like British Wolf Cubs, but the mythology was based on Rmulus and Remus who were infants cast out, but suckled and rased by a she wolf. They went on of course to found Rome, one killing the other. This was Fascist youth group for very young boys to age 8. We have no information on the actual program.

Balilla: While only one section of the Fasvist Youth organization, the Balilla is often used to refervton the organizationn as a whokle. The Balilla was named after a Genoese boy-hero who started a revolt against the Austrians in the 18th century. The boy through a rock at an Austrian soldier and the resulting uprising freed Genoa from foreign rule. The Austrians controlled much of northern Italy into the late 19th century. Itlalian unification and independence in the 19th Century required a war with Austria. The Balilla was for boys 8-11 years old.

Balilla Musketeers: This was for boys age 11-14 years of age.

Vanguard: The Vanguard was for boys 14-16 years old.

Vanguard Musketeers: The Vanguard Musketeers was for boys 16-17 years old. At age 18 the boys entered the military.

Young Fascists: The Young Fascists were for younger boys that went on to university. We have also note a group called the Fascisti Universitari. I am not sure what the differences between these groups were.


Figure 5.--Another scene at a Fascist rally with the Balillia boys in full dress uniform.

Specialized Divisions

There were several specialized sections that the boys could choose, wgen they reach the Vanguard level at age 14 and continued to age 18 when they entered the military.

Pre-Avieri

The Pre-Avieri was the pre-Air Men. The training and instruction provided prepared the boys for the air force.

Pre-Marinari

The "Pre-Marinari" were the pre-Sailors and prepared the boys for naval service.

Reparti Alpini

There was also an alpine training course, "Reparti Alpini".

Other special divisions

There were other specialized divisions, but we have no further details at this time.

Membership

The Fascist Youth organization covered children from age 1 to age 18. Although membership in these groups were not strictly compulsory, anyone wanting a career in the Civil Service or the hierarchy, or even useful business contacts, was wise to have been a member of all of them. Younger children of course enjoyed the uniforms and parades for their own sake.

Effectiveness

We wonder about the effectiveness of the Balilla. The Italian Fascists seized power a decade before the NAZIs in Germany. The Balilla was thus the sole youth movement for Italian youth for a much longer period than the Hitler Youth in Germany. The Balilla was designed like the Hitler Youth to create a young generation firmly committed to Fascist rule and Mussolini/Hitler's leadership. Both groups had summer camps that promoted para-military activities. Even so, the Italian commitment to and readiness for war were far below the level achieved in Germany. The Hitler Youth boys delivered youths to the military with a widec range of useful military skills as well as military discipline. Hitler Youth boys fought with great intensity oin the War. The Hitler Youth Division in Normandy was a noted example of this. The Balilla appears to have failed to achieve little to enthuse Italian boys with a martial spirit. Italian army failed repeatedly in operations against the French, Greeks, British, and Americans, often facing numerically uinferior forces. We are not entirely sure why these two youth movements have such different records. We do note that the Baillal, unlike the Hitler Youth, did not seek to destroy the influence of the Church and family.

Leadership

One of the characteristics of the Hitler Youth was youth leadership. I know kess about the Balilla, but presume the ame must ahve also veen the case. Boys were taught to both follow and lead. The opportunity to lead other boys. The Balilla youth leaders were supervised by adult leaders who made sure that the youth leaders conformed with the Fascist Party NAZI Party program. We have very limited information about who these adult leaders were and how they were selected. Nor do we have a good idea yet as to just how they interacted with the youth leaders. We have begun to collect information on the question of leadership and will archive that information here. We note Italian youth leaders wearing two different uniforms. We do not know the difference between the two uniforms at this time.

Race

One of the elements commonly associated with Fascism is a concern with race. This of course took its most toxic form with the NAZIs who pursued the biological concept of race with unparaleled ferocity. This is not, however, how Fascism began in Italy. We have not yet found much information on this, but at first Jews were members of the Fascist Party and we believe that Jewish children could join the Balilla. This needs to be confirmed. Perhaps some readers will have some information here. And in Italy's African colonies, we see Balilla groups with blacks as full members, carrying rifles along side the Italian boys. Thhe attitudes toward race, at least Jews, began to change with the rise of Hitker and the NAZIs in Germany, especially as Mussolini and Hitler began to move closer together politically (1935), eventually forging the lRome-Berlin Axis. The turning point on Jewish policies was under pressure from Hitler, the issuance of Anti-Semetic Race Laws (1938). The trend toward anti-Semtism and racial concerns was a naturl evoliution, albeit speed up increasing NAZI influence. The core of Fascism was xenephonic natiionalism. And as European states were commonly built around a core ethnic group, it is only natural that race would take on increasing importance. This inevitably put minority groups at risk, especially the Jews for which strong ahnti-Semetic attitudes existed even begfore the rise of Fascism.

Uniform

We have begun to develop some basic information on the uniforms worn by the Italian Fascist youth organization. We have some information on both the dififferent levels and on specific garments. The uniform for the Fascist youth were similar to most other uniformed groups. The most destinctive garment was the fez worn with a tassle. The uniform for the younger levels was almost identical. The older boys wore a different uniform. Italian children had to join the Fascist Balilla after Mussolini seized control of Italy. The Scouts were banned and the only youth group permitted was the Bailla. As with the Scouts, parents were expected to purchase the uniforms and equipment. Italy was a poor country, especially in the South, and we believe that not all children participated. Here we are not yet sure, but we have seen some authors reporting that subtantial numbers of children did not participate, we think mostly children from low-income families. We see Balilla officials passing out uniforms and clothing to some of the children at camps.

Levels

We have little information so far the uniforms worn by the members of Italian Fascist youth groups. We do not understand, for example, what the uniform differences were for the various levels. The Figli della Lupa and Balilla wore basically the same uniform. The units for the older boys were different. There are quite a few available images on the younger levels, but fewer on the older boys. We have limited information on changes over time. The garments worn by the Italian Fascist youth groups were quite similar to those worn by other youth groups. The boys were best known of course for their black shirts, based on the Fascist black shirt thugs that were the inspiration for the NAZI brown-shirted Stormtroopers. The one destinctive part of their uniform was there cap which looked some like a fez. I'm not sure hust what the style was based on.

Garments

The garments worn by the Italian Fascist youth groups were quite similar to those worn by other youth groups. The boys were best known of course for their black shirts, based on the Fascist black shirt thugs that were the inspiration for the NAZI brown-shirted Stormtroopers. The one destinctive part of their uniform was there cap which looked some like a fez. I'm not sure hust what the style was based on. Mussolini's Fascists lasted in Italy much longer than the NAZIs in Germany. Thus the youth movement operated over a longer period than the Hitler Youth. There were some changes in the uniform over time, although the basic style was fairly constant. We have very limited information on changes over time. Another problem is we are not precisely sure about colors because most availabloe images are black and white.

Purchasing the unifom

Italian children had to join the Fascist Balilla after Mussolini seized control of Italy. The Scouts were banned and the only youth group permitted was the Bailla. As with the Scouts, parents were expected to purchase the uniforms and equipment. Italy was a poor country, especially in the South, and we believe that not all children participated. Here we are not yet sure, but we have seen some authors reporting that subtantial numbers of children did not participate, we think mostly children from low-income families. We see Balilla officials passing out uniforms and clothing to some of the children at camps. The Fascist youth organization Balilla had several changes throughout its history. So also the ceremonies changed over time. I am attaching an image a Facist from a propaganda movie taken at a Balilla camp in the suburbs of Rome (July 1931). Renato Ricci, chief of the Balilla organization, is putting new clothing on a group of children from poor families attending the camp. We do not know if the Bailla alsoorovided uniforms to the children participating in regular Bailla units and activities.

School

We notice many images of children wearing their Balilla uniforms at school. We are nit yet sure about the relationship between the Fascist youth uniforms and schools. The Hitler Youth movement was not organized around the schools. The Communist Young Pioneer Movement in the Soviet Union was organized around the schools. We are not yet sure about the Balilla, but the number of images with school children wearing the uniform suggests that there was a close association. A good examole is the Ozzano Monferrato School in 1938-39. The image, however, shows only some of the children wearing their Balilla uniforms.

World War II

We have been unable at this time to find much informatiin as the role oplayed by the Bailla on the Italian home front during World War II. We suspect that thy played some of the roles we have noted Boy Sciouts playing in Allied countries, but can not yet confirm that. Hopefully readers will be able to provide some information on this. We do know that from the inception of the Fascist state that the Bailla was used to prepare boys for war. The Italian Balilla, however, seems to have been far less effective than the Hitler Youth in preparing boys for war. The Italian Army was unprepared for war in terms of equipment. But the Italian soldier was even less well prepared for War. The average Italian soldier had few greivances with the British and even less with the Americans. The Balilla did not perpetuate the either the nationalist ardor, racial hatred, or greivance that the Hitler Youth so successfully impanted in German youth. One part of the Balilla program was military training, but unlike the Hitler Youth failed to iclcated martail ardor in Italian youth. And unlike the HJ, after Allies armies landed (September 1943), there was no desire of young Italians to resist the Allies to preserve the Fascist state. The fighting was done almost entirely done by the Germans.

Military Service

Boys at age 18, either entered the specialized military section they had prepared for or were drafted into the army. Some also entered the Black Shirts (The Militia).

Art

We do not have much information on Italian art depicting the Balilla. We do note one sculpturer, Alberto Uno (1870-1956).









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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 4:33 PM 8/30/2014