Revisiting the Rise of Italian Fascism

Yves here. I hope you like historical pieces as much as I do, particularly since history is much debated. I’ve nevertheless been a bit reluctant to discuss fascism much, since the term has been too freely applied to Trump. Too many forget that he campaigned to the left of the Republican party in the primaries, then moved hard right after he won the nomination. One reader astutely pointed out that Trump isn’t an authoritarian, he’s just not that interested in doing the work to amass power. What he wants is attention.

The notion that fascism is an elite/bourgeois reaction against socialism is plausible, but I welcome reader input. Note that the article mentions in passing that the impact of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was one of the drivers of fears of socialist policies being implemented.

By Daron Acemoğlu, Professor of Applied Economics, MIT, Giuseppe De Feo, Associate Professor, University of Leicester, Giacomo De Luca, Senior Lecturer, University of York; Senior Economist, LICOS, University of Leuven and Gianluca Russo, Postdoctoral Fellow, Pompeu Fabra University. Originally published at VoxEU

Right-wing populist movements often come to power by exploiting people’s anxieties and fears. Following WWI, fascists in Italy likely exploited the perceived threat of socialism to gain support among the elite and the middle classes. This column explores the link between the threat of socialism and Mussolini’s rise to power and finds a strong association between the Red Scare in Italy and the subsequent local support for the Fascist Party in the early 1920s. Local elites, especially large landowners, played an important role in boosting Fascist Party activity and support.

Right-wing populist movements are threatening Western democracies, from the US to France to Germany and the UK. What lies behind their ascendancy? When do such movements become successful at the polls? And when are they more likely to topple democratic institutions?

A common feature of many of these movements is their exploitation of the population’s anxieties and fears – for example, those generated by the 2008 financial crisis and the large inflows of immigrants. Right-wing populist governments have also taken advantage of panic generated by the COVID-19 pandemic to grab more power in Hungary, Poland, and Turkey, to name just a few examples.

These events have led many commentators to draw parallels between today’s right-wing movements and interwar fascism. Fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany exploited fears and anxieties, too. Economic crises, the instability brought by WWI, and the strong nationalist and militarist feelings of many created an environment ideally suited to their demagoguery.

In this context, a famous theory articulated by several historians (e.g. Nolte 1965) links the appeal these parties had to the elite and the middle classes to the perceived threat of socialism following WWI. Similarly, several right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America, as well as in Turkey and Indonesia, came to power using the threat of socialism as an excuse.

What can we learn from the interwar experience about the character and the dangers posed by the new resurgence of right-wing populism? To shed light on this question, in recent work (Acemoglu et al. 2020), we revisit the rise of Italian fascism, focusing on the link between the threat of socialism and Mussolini’s movement in the 1920s.

Although several works emphasise the ‘Red Scare’ as an important contributor to the fascists’ rise,1 there has not been a systematic empirical investigation of this connection and its role in the Fascist Party’s takeover of government.

We use several newly collected datasets to explore the link between the perceived threat of socialism following WWI and the subsequent rise of fascism in Italy. Our main result is a strong association between the Red Scare in Italy, measured by the vote share of the Socialist Party in the first post-war election in 1919, and the subsequent local support for the Fascist Party in the early 1920s.

Specifically, we use three measures of support for fascists: the vote share of the Fascist Party in the 1924 elections, the presence of local branches of the party by the end of 1921, and fascist violence. All three of these measures show a tight connection between the Socialist Party’s municipal vote share for the 1919 election and subsequent support for the Fascist movement.

We also document that local elites, especially large landowners, played an important role in boosting fascist activity and support. Figure 1 maps the relationship between war casualties (top panel), the 1919 Socialist vote share (centre panel) and the 1924 Fascist vote share (bottom panel) throughout Italian municipalities.

Figure 1 Relationship between war casualties (top), 1919 Socialist vote share (middle) and 1924 Fascist vote share (bottom) throughout Italian municipalities

War Casualties, the Red Scare, and Fascism

The correlation between the Socialist vote share in 1919 and subsequent Fascist support is likely to be affected by several other factors. To establish a causal link between the Red Scare and the rise of Italian fascism, we develop a new source of variation in support for the Socialists Party based on casualties from WWI in the local area.

WWI created huge hardships and disillusionment in Italy, both because of the army’s failures in the battlefield and its casualties and also because of a sense that, despite being on the winning side, Italy did not benefit from the war.

At the start of the 20th century, the Italian Socialist Party was one of the strongest in Europe. Because it had opposed Italy’s entry into WWI, the anti-war sentiment created a groundswell of support for the party. The Socialists emerged as the largest party in the 1919 election, capturing 32.3% of the national vote.

We use detailed data on war casualties to measure the extent of local hardship generated by WWI. We first show that foot-soldier casualties in the municipality are unrelated to a battery of the area’s pre-war economic, social, and political characteristics, including pre-war support for Socialist or Nationalist parties. In contrast to this, there is a very strong association between casualties and the Socialist Party vote share in the 1919 elections, regardless of various historical and contemporaneous controls.

However, by that time, the Socialist Party had started changing its character, embracing a Soviet-influenced hard-line agenda. During its 1918 Congress, the revolutionary wing of the Socialists took control of the party, drafting the programme centred on the mission to “to do as in Russia” (Tasca 1938). A year later, the party joined Communist International, stipulating that “The violent conquest of political power on behalf of the workers will signify the passing of power from the bourgeois class to the proletarian class, thus establishing […] the dictatorship of all of the proletariat” (Payne 1996: 89).

The two years following the election witnessed a further intensification of Socialist mobilisation. Strikes and riots became more widespread, reaching their pinnacle in September 1920 when workers occupied factories all over the country in a move that could have led to a socialist revolution in Italy.

These events generated palpable fear and anxiety among landowners and some elites, as well as among many middle-class Italians in cities and the countryside. Many elites came to view traditional centre-right parties as ineffective in stopping socialism and started to turn to Fascists. As Lyttleton (2003: 70) put it, “The expansion of Fascism in the rural areas was stimulated and directed by the reaction of the farmers and landowners against the peasant leagues of both Socialists and Catholics.”

Consistent with these assessments, our empirical results suggest a strong connection between the Red Scare, proxied by the increase in the 1919 Socialist vote share driven by casualties, and our three measures of fascist support, as illustrated in Figure 2. Our estimates suggest that as much as 15% of the increase in the Fascist Party vote share from 1919 to 1924 may have been due to the support of conservative and moderate voters in the face of the perceived Red Scare. Figure 2 (middle and bottom panels) shows that the effects on fascist violence and the likelihood of having a local Fascist Party branch in the area are similarly large.

Figure 2 Local Fascist Party support and variation in 1919 Socialist Party vote share driven by foot-soldier casualties shock

What Explains the Surge of Fascism?

We show that the Fascist Party votes did not come from the Socialists’ core support; instead, it was the voters who used to back centre-right parties that started voting for fascists in 1924. Greater nationalist sentiment had little to do with the rise of fascist support: WWI veterans do not appear to have supported the Fascist Party. Neither do we see greater nationalist feeling, as proxied by support for other nationalist parties or likelihood of building war memorials, in areas suffering greater casualties.

Rather, in line with the historical evidence, local-elite support appears to have been important in coordinating centre-right support under the fascist umbrella. We find much larger effects (including donations to the fascist cause from rich Italians) in areas where there are greater increases in the Socialist vote share in 1919 together with landowner associations or a greater number of local elites.

If the effects of war casualties and hardship are working through the perceived threat of socialism, then we may also expect other shocks that intensify left-wing support to have similar consequences. We show that this is the case. Both negative rainfall shocks and greater mortality from the Spanish flu pandemic also appear to have increased support for the Socialist Party during this era, and this increased support for the Socialist Party led to greater local Fascist Party activity later (even if our results here are less precise than those that are driven by war casualties).

Long-Term Effects of Fascism

Did the rule of the Fascist Party have a longer-term impact? There is no consensus answer to this question. The fascist takeover of power was an epochal event, which could have altered Italy’s subsequent economic or political trajectory. Yet, given its abrupt collapse in 1943, many historians have doubted its long-term consequences. Our paper also explores this question using the source of variation coming from casualties and new data sources.

First, we show that in areas where there was greater local Fascist Party support, more Jews were deported between 1943 and 1945. Thus, even though the support of Italians to Nazi atrocities have been often downplayed, our evidence suggests that Italian fascism led to local collaboration with the Nazis.

Second, we document that in the post-WWII elections, local Fascist Party support in the 1920s is associated with the much worse performance of centre-right parties. This may have been because their alliance and complicity with the Fascists in the 1920s delegitimised the centre-right establishment.

Concluding Remarks

The rise of Mussolini to power was a turning point in world history. Together with Nazi Germany, it pushed Europe into unparalleled atrocities and human suffering. In our paper, we examine what paved the way to the Fascist Party’s electoral success and show that the perceived threat of socialism was an important contributor to the rise of Italian fascism. This was largely because landowners, the industrial rich, and many middle-class people turned to the Fascists amid growing support for the Socialist Party and industrial and rural mobilisation.

What are the lessons for today? On the one hand, if the interwar nationalism, militarism, and the veritable threat of socialist revolution were critical for the mass appeal (and violence and murderous activities) of extreme right-wing parties, then we may have less to fear that today’s right-wing populism will turn into a version of militant fascism. On the other hand, our results can also be read as a warning that we should watch out for heightening fears and anxieties rooted in economic instability, large immigrant flows or nationalism fuelled by international tensions, lest these start simultaneously radicalising right-wing populists and broadening their appeal among the population.

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  1. Vidur

    Whether or not one can link support for fascism to fear of socialism (this article being strong evidence but not conclusive proof of a general phenomenon), it’s a matter of historical fact that the fear of socialism has led to the creation and support of fascist and authoritarian regimes by the West.

  2. David

    The problem with elite interpretations of history like this (especially by non-historians) is that they look with a kind of puzzled distaste at those who voted for or supported extreme right-wing parties, on the basis that they were sufficiently stupid that their “anxieties and fears” could be “exploited.” It would be more useful, surely to pose the question more neutrally: what was the appeal of fascist parties to those who supported and in some cases voted for them? The answer lies in the breakdown of existing political systems, and the sense that only extreme political choices are available.

    If the rise of such parties was simply because of middle-class fears of socialism (and I suspect they really mean Communism) then we would expect to see the rise of extreme right-wing parties in all countries where there were strong Communist parties. But this is not the case: in France, which had a powerful and well-organised Communist Party after 1920, the extreme right made very little progress. In Germany, moreover, the Nazis were fringe players (around 2.5% of the vote) in the 1920s, in spite of there being a massive and well-organised Communist Party. Moreover, both countries had strong Socialist parties (the SPD was famously the largest political party in European history) with, by modern standards, extremely radical programmes. They also both spent some time in government.

    What happens is that, in periods of stress and political breakdown (as was the case in Italy after WW1) electors find themselves confronted with a choice between extremes, since the established political parties are clearly no longer able to cope. This was famously the case in Germany in 1933, when the political system had broken down, and the existing political parties were discredited. For many, if not most, Germans, the choice lay between Communism and Nazism. The former was associated with the Munich Soviet of 1919 and incipient civil war, the latter was an unknown quantity. Many went for the latter. Between them, the two parties gained over 50% of the vote in July 1932; the only other party that did well was the Socialists, who retained a lot of their traditional support, but had no answers to the economic crisis either. Although the cases aren’t strictly comparable, the rallying of middle-class support to regimes such as those of Franco and Pinochet demonstrates that, when the political system has broken down and the choice appears to lie between extremes, most people will opt for the alternative they fear less, or the one which safeguards their interests as they see them.

    The key, therefore, is how well the political system is working and how well it responds to peoples’ concerns. For this reason the conclusion gets the argument the wrong way round: it’s not “fears” of economic instability and large immigrant flows that are they problem (those stupid peasants!), it’s the problems themselves, which governments are failing to address, and are indeed angrily dismissing. When governments and established political parties show themselves incapable of dealing with problems that affect the lives of ordinary people, they can hardly complain if non-established political forces prosper as a result.

    1. Carolinian

      Without a doubt the fascists depended on a great deal of disguise and propaganda to conceal their true aims (even if Hitler made his quite plain in Mein Kampf). The ever popular boiling frog analogy applies. This is one reason some of us have never bought the idea of Trump as fascist. Not only is he not secretive about his motives, he just can’t shut up. Unlike Hitler he has no grand plan. He’s a boaster not a schemer.

      1. bassmule

        Yes. As has been posted in these precincts before: Trump does not get up in the morning and ask himself how he can be more like Mussolini. I’d put even money that he doesn’t know who Mussolini was.

      2. vao

        In Germany, moreover, the Nazis were fringe players (around 2.5% of the vote) in the 1920s, in spite of there being a massive and well-organised Communist Party.

        There were actually three extreme right-wing parties in Germany during the 1920s: the NSDAP, the DVFP (with which the NSDAP was compelled to present common electoral lists, reaching thus 3.00%-6.55% of votes), and the largest one, the DNVP (whose score in that period varied between 14.25% and 20.49%). So altogether a not at all insignificant proportion of the electorate.

        All those parties were violently anti-semitic, for a strict authoritarian regime, against the Weimar Republic, for the re-militarization of Germany, against the Versailles treaty, for a greater Germany, against left-wing parties and trade-unions. You really have to look deep into details to figure out the differences.

        Hitler abhorred those other parties, because they were direct ideological and political competitors to the NSDAP. The DVFP basically disappeared in 1928; the DNVP lost half of its voters in 1930 when the NSDAP started its meteoric rise, but regained some strength in 1932. It merged into the NSDAP in 1933 — the only German party to do so. After WWII, former members of the DNVP and of the NSDAP founded the extreme-right, neo-fascist leaning NPD (more or less under permanent surveillance by the German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz).

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Patrick Leigh Fermor’s wonderful book ‘A Time for Gifts’ is an account of his solo hike through Europe as a teenager in the 1930’s. Although it may have been tinted somewhat with hindsight (he wrote it many years later after the war), I found his accounts of meeting rural Nazi supporters really interesting. He said that he detected no radicalism or bigotry from them, just a mix of relief and intoxication that finally they had a leader that excited them after years of confusion and incompetence and national decay. Women talked about Hitlers ‘lovely eyes’, and the surge of money coming into the economy.

      Having said that, I’ve read a number of war histories that emphasised the very deep hatred and fear of the Reds among ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers. This is one reason why they fought so tenaciously and viciously at Stalingrad and other battles, in contrast to the western and other fronts. Thousands of Wehrmacht soldiers wouldn’t even surrender when ordered by Paulus at Stalingrad, preferring to fight to the last man. But of course this fanaticism may have come after, not before, the start of the war.

      1. vlade

        A lot of German soldiers fought fanatically because they had a pretty good idea what Soviets would do to them (because the Germans knew what they did to Soviet civilians before). It wasn’t fear of Commies (Soviet army was not very communistic post August 1942, when “commisars” were abolished, and single command system reinstated – again), it was a fear of retribution.

        1. Cojo

          Vlade makes a good point. The Japanese soldiers in the Pacific theater also fought fanatically for similar reasons. Sadly, many civilians (especially on Okinawa) also believed the propaganda that the Americans would brutalize them and preferred suicide rather than surrendering as well.

          1. Aumua

            Well Americans did nuke not one but two of their cities, an extremely savage and unnecessary action. So maybe their fears were justified.

            1. Acacia

              Not to mention firebombing civilians in 60+ cities before dropping the nukes. More people were killed in one night of firebombing Tokyo than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

              1. Cojo

                And the British and Americans firebombed Hamburg and Dresden, yet to Vlades point, the Germans still would have preferred to surrender to western forces if given a choice. Towards the last days of the war there was a concerted effort to focus German defenses on the Eastern front rather than the western to reduce the amount of territory the Red army would advance through. No doubt, in part due to fearing reprisals For how the Wehrmacht treated occupied Russian civilians and territories.

                As horrendous as firebombing was, the allied political and military leadership at the time did not consider it a war crime. Mistreatment of civilian and military prisoners was still frowned upon by the western allies. Not to say they didn’t have their fair share of incidents, but not in a systematic way the Japanese treated conquered Asian populations or the Soviets treated German prisoners.

            2. Cojo

              I’m with you that the targeting of civilian population centers as legitimate war targets during WWII was grotesque. Unfortunately it would only be forbidden after the war by the amendments to the Geneva conventions. I also agree that the dropping of the atomic bombs was probably unnecessary, but their death tolls were no worse than some of the more egregious firebombing raids on Tokyo. I’m not counting the long term effects of radiation poisoning, but I believe those were not well understood at the time.

              That being said, I am unaware of Western allied forces committing widespread atrocities on captured or occupied civilians. Perhaps the Japanese civilians were expecting to be treated like the Chinese who were vanquished by the Japanese a decade earlier.

        2. Phil in KC

          I agree with vlade. German soldiers as well as the civilian population were bombarded with propaganda showing the average Russian was a savage barbarian lusting for rape and plunder. This was accelerated after the defeats in the summer and fall of 1943. Many German citizens committed suicide as the Russians approached, throwing themselves into freezing rivers, for example. They didn’t do this for reasons of ideology. The true ideologues were either well-sheltered behind the lines in comfortable government sinecures or lay dead in the frozen wastes of the Eastern front. This is well documented in Ian Kershaw’s history “The End.”

      2. David

        Omar Bartov has written some good stuff on this subject, and I think it’s pretty clear that the German soldiers on the Eastern Front fought as long as they did both out of fear of reprisals by the Red Army for their own atrocious conduct, but also, and perhaps more importantly, because of traditional German fear and hatred of the Slavic hordes, as most recently demonstrated in the atrocities committed by the Russian Army in 1914. It seems fairly certain that the average Wehrmacht soldier thought he was fighting a defensive war (or more properly a pre-emptive war) to stop the Slavic hordes from overrunning Germany, and, at the end, to allow the German population to escape to the West, to escape what they saw as the threat of extermination. But it’s not necessary to assume that these ideas came from Nazism, or even Fascism. The Nazis had few if any original ideas, and their so-called ideology was a mish-mash of bits and pieces found laying around, rather like the typical Internet conspiracy theory. The idea of the need for an exterminatory war against the Slavic-Communist-Jewish hordes was well established in the psyche of the German ruling classes – it’s sobering to read Wehrmacht generals on the subject.

        1. vlade

          There was definitely the hatred (and other feelings towards) of “Slavic hordes”, you can read it in the letters of German soldiers from the Eastern front, when they describe the living conditions in Soviet rural areas (which were often appaling).

          But IMO the fear of Soviet revenge was getting stronger as they fought later, and again, you can read it in the letters, where they express the fear what the Soviet soldiers will do (to the civilians) when they come to Germany, not uncommonly followed by “when we know what we did to them”
          ” Only when we ourselves give up,have we lost everything. I am convinced that not only the fate of the standing armies in foreign lands, but also the population of Germanywould be sealed. Having devastated Russia in such a manner, the Soviets will want a terrible revenge”

          1. 3man

            I remember reading a book about the Teutonic Knights many years ago, and it was striking how the same racist beliefs about the Slavs drove them to do what they did in medieval times. In this case the ideological cover was religious rather than political, as a crusade against the Baltic infidels.

    3. John Rose

      Your description applies also to 2016 when many votes surely reflected exasperation with the Democratic Party tweedle-dee relationship with Republicans. As Yves commented, Trump at least addressed their concerns and when nothing else has worked, people choose anything that is different.
      And, of course, once chosen, will stick with it to maintain self-respect.

    4. Jan

      But in Italy there was another factor, the rural areas, the Catholic Church which had a grip on the mindset of people.

    5. Geof

      when the political system has broken down . . . most people will opt for the alternative they fear less, or the one which safeguards their interests as they see them. . . . it’s not “fears” of economic instability and large immigrant flows that are they problem . . . it’s the problems themselves

      I think that it is correct that at the current moment the problems themselves have created an unstable environment, and I agree about people turning to a radical movement that claims to address their interests. But I think fear is important.

      It seems to me that the George W Bush presidency was more authoritarian than what we have today. The Patriot Act, torture, extraordinary rendition, imprisonment without trial, mass surveillance, flag-waving rallies, extrajudicial executions, the invasion of Iraq: the political capital for thes acts was harvested from fear. That fear was largely groundless, but was cultivated so successfully that most of the program was bipartisan.

      I am not convinced that outside the Italian case facism is a helpful category. It seems designed to group together a small number of distinct historical instances, downplaying their differences. I think that totalitarianism is a more useful category, as is Nazism. Left and right also seem to me to be ill-defined amorphous categories with little essential nature beyond mutual antagonism. If we can have a left that abandons labour and a right that embraces government, if they can swap class constituencies, what key factor distinguishes them? I also think that thinkers overemphasize the intellectual and ideological content of political movements. I think that ordinary citizens are committed to a culture (or “tribe”) and to their own interests, not to particular theories of government.

      I see authoritarian tendencies in Trump (e.g., I was appalled when non-uniformed federal agents grabbed protesters off the streets of Portland): but I don’t think he has it in him. He would happily play the authoritarian, but lacks commitment and work ethic. Perhaps a greater danger is that he could open the doors for or act on behalf of those around him, but that doesn’t seem to have happened beyond the usual terrible Republican policies.

      Returning to the motivations for authoritarianism, or totalitarianism, a few months back, a commenter on here recommended Götz Aly’s Why the Germans? Why the Jews? The book is eye-opening. People did not simply run to the Nazis out of fear. Many of them embraced the movement enthusiastically. The Nazis were young and they spread a message of optimism and success. They presented themselves as a party of progress and solidarity. Even after the war, many Germans remembered how those years when the walls between the classes came down and they worked side by side towards a common cause as the best times of their lives. The lesson of the Nazis is not Don’t Be Evil: it is to beware of what seems good.

      Their most ardent supporters, and their most vile policies, were driven not by fear or deprivation, but by thwarted ambition. The archetypal Nazi official was a go-getter working his way up from a more humble background. Weimar had drastically increased opportunities for higher education: the result was universities churning out vastly too many graduates for the jobs available. These aspiring social climbers were among the first to turn to the Nazis, supporting them at a much larger rate than the population as a whole. Those jobs were largely in new white-collar professions: and those professions were dominated by Jews. They were furious to see that a group who made up less than 1% of the population made up huge percentages of university professors, school teachers, and other desirable new professions. One of the first acts of the Nazis was to push Jews out and make room for non-Jews.

      If anyone was afraid of the Communists, it was the conservative parties who made the deal that let Hitler into government. (Don’t forget that many communists turned right around to become Nazis.) But the picture Aly draws is of a newly- and rapidly-modernising country where status-seeking young men find their dreams obstructed and turn to a party of optimism, hope and progress.

      Now for my contentious suggestion. Set aside labels and tribal preconceptions. What makes a regime authoritarian or totalitarian is less its policy ends (the utterly evil ends of the Nazis obscure this), but the means it is willing to employ to achieve them. When I look at American politics today, I just don’t see a youthful mass movement of white supremacists. I do see many markers of it on the youthful, revolutionary identitarian left. Or “left”: they are a movement of educated elites who have abandoned labour and class, embraced corporate and institutional power, and inherited many of the excesses of the Bush regime. They look reactionary to me.

      Am I wrong?

      1. vlade

        “Don’t forget that many communists turned right around to become Nazis.”

        And many (especially lower level) Nazis in the Soviet liberated countries or Soviet PoW turned around to become communist functionaries.

        My grandad was put on the run by Gestapo, and the informer that dobbed him in, after the war, switched to work for the new, communist, masters. Similar stories abound about low level Nazi functionaries in towns suddenly becoming fervent communist supporters, often just as the front was passing. Not that it saved them all the time, but if they managed to skip the town, or had real value, it did.

      2. Acacia

        Thanks much for this insightful post. Your “contentious suggestion” doesn’t seem wrong to me. Not at all. The only thing I would add is that by embracing corporate and institutional power, the contemporary mass movement of indentitarians is hardly “left”. They may call themselves that, but insofar as they have abandoned labour and class, really they are liberals. I know a number of these people, and I find them rather more worrisome than the white supremo bogeymen they are shrieking about.

    6. JohnnyGL

      David, I like a lot of what you’ve got here in this comment. But wanted to expand on and supplement with a few add ons.

      “The problem with elite interpretations of history like this (especially by non-historians) is that they look with a kind of puzzled distaste at those who voted for or supported extreme right-wing parties, on the basis that they were sufficiently stupid that their “anxieties and fears” could be “exploited.” It would be more useful, surely to pose the question more neutrally: what was the appeal of fascist parties to those who supported and in some cases voted for them? The answer lies in the breakdown of existing political systems, and the sense that only extreme political choices are available.”

      I think the issue in this article is explaining how elites themselves came to embrace fascism in Italy.

      The elephant in the room for Germany should go almost without saying: The Great Depression.

      Adam Tooze’s work on Weimar Germany makes a convincing case that you just don’t get 1/3 of German voters pulling the lever for Hitler without the repeated rounds of crushing austerity pursued by the political class. And you also don’t get Hitler as Chancellor without the existing German centrist political class agreeing to give him the job while figuring they were clever enough to be able to pull the strings from behind the curtain.

      But, as the article addresses, the Italian case seems different than Germany. Unless someone can point out otherwise, we’ve got to explain why fascism pops up in Italy, — a full decade ahead of the German one. It’s not clear to me that we can point a fat index finger at austerity and depression.

      It’s very astute that you point out other countries with strong Socialist/Communist movements where elites don’t seek out similar solutions, like France. I guess maybe it’s a question of whether elites decide either 1) the current parties and leaders can handle the challenge or 2) they CANNOT handle the challenge and changes need to be made or 3) accommodations can be made with the rising left.

      In situations when elites organize and collectively decide that 1) and 3) aren’t good enough, option 2) opens the door to fascist alternatives.

    7. Igor Slamoff

      “it’s not “fears” of economic instability and large immigrant flows that are they problem (those stupid peasants!), it’s the problems themselves, which governments are failing to address, and are indeed angrily dismissing.”

      How the French government deals with immigration problems. Speech by ambassador Pierre Brochand, former head (2002-2008) of the French foreign intelligence service (DGSE) at a symposium on immigration and integration on 2 July 2019.
      Pour une véritable politique de l’immigration [Proposal for a genuine immigration policy], by Pierre Brochand, Fondation Res Publica, 2 juillet 2019.

      But it seems to me that when we pass from manipulation to outright lying, we are crossing a red line, and this should alarm all enlightened minds, regardless of their political position on the subject [of immigration to France]. By this I mean when facts are not merely slanted or misinterpreted, but actually denied, tampered with or buried.
      Facts are denied by the ritual incantation of irrelevance, by flatly rejecting not only any causal link, but even mere statistical correlation between immigration from outside Europe and all social phenomena that public opinion considers pernicious, like terrorism, crime, swindling Social Security or scarcity of public facilities. Facts are grossly distorted by tampering with statistics, and so cynically that only lazy journalists are hoodwinked.
      The tricks most often used: using the concept of balance of migration [solde migratoire – i.e. number of immigrants minus number of emigrants each year] instead of the number of arrivals (without ever inquiring into the composition of this balance: French people leaving, foreigners arriving); suggesting that the many “mixed” marriages shows how eager French society is to interbreed (any marriage between “French” and “foreigner” counts toward this number, but actually the vast majority of them are marriages with citizens of other EU countries); publishing average numbers covering all France (either to omit alarming local statistics, or to flatten phenomena that might cause shock, such as the difference in fertility between “natives” and “non-natives”); citing the number of foreigners (“which is not growing …”), instead of the number of immigrants (which is growing …) [immigrants cease being foreigners when they are naturalized]; talking only about “immigrants” and forgetting the difficulties caused by the deviant behavior of the descendants of immigrants, and so forth.
      And finally, when facts become really alarming, simply stop recording them. Two examples.
      The first relates to tests for sickle-cell anemia carried out on newborns who are at risk: if handled with care (since they include West Indians), this number is a proxy for the share of children born to immigrants from outside Europe and to their descendants. [Sickle-cell anemia is a disease that most often affects black Africans and their descendants. The author seems to believe that North Africans are also affected, which is not the case. “West Indians” here means natives of the French overseas departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe, who are French citizens and consequently are not immigrants.] (In 2016 their share of births was 39% [in metropolitan France] and 75% in Île-de-France). Suddenly the government agency in charge of counting sickle-cell anemia tests was shut down on murky bureaucratic grounds, and the number of such tests is no longer available.
      Another yardstick that was discarded was the nationwide urban violence index (which naturally focused on “sensitive neighborhoods”). After the index reached 11,000 in 2005, its publication promptly ceased. As if a surgeon had hastily sewn up his patient’s abdomen after discovering what was inside … Nonetheless, thanks to insurance companies we can still fall back on the most innocent form of “boorishness”, namely the number of cars torched each year (45,000), the overwhelming majority of them in those same “lower-class neighborhoods”.
      The upshot is that immigration is the only non-military domain where unofficial “national security secrets” exist, with the eminently praiseworthy purpose of not “pouring fuel on the flames” or “pandering to the extreme right”. However it is obvious that that this extreme discretion implicitly acknowledges how serious the problem is, since in one case they admit that there is a fire and in the other, we simply choose between two evils, and a potential strengthening of the far right is deemed far worse than the perils ensuing from further untrammeled immigration. In short, it’s the sort of language in which ostriches would talk to us if they had the gift of speech.

  3. Carolinian

    Thanks for this. Since I get much of my info from movies there’s one called Vincere about Mussolini’s early days and the mistress who bore his unacknowledged child. Seems he started out as a socialist, had a falling out with his colleagues and then switched to the rightwing as his path to power. If you read accounts of those WWI military campaigns and the aristocratic leadership’s contempt for ordinary soldiers it’s clear that Italy was already ripe for fascism–they just needed a bombastic leader to front the thing. Mussolini himself didn’t mince words and said that fascism was corporatism or populism in service of the wealthy. The same might be said of Hitler and the house of Krupp. In both cases the wealthy probably got more than they bargained for.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I think the question needs to be asked as to whether Fascisms opposition to Communism was because it saw itself as diametrically opposed, or whether in the context of the time Communism was simply the convenient ‘other’ for it to oppose – a core component of fascism always seems to have been the need for an enemy to define itself again.

    The usual problem though with fascism is definitional. Throughout the 20th Century and today there are many political movements and governments on all continents which share key ideological elements with classical 1930’s ‘fascism’ – an authoritarian streak, corporatist economic policies, militarism, nationalism, racism, othering, and so on. Some (even in Asia) explicitly drew on Fascist thinking, others developed out of local cultures. You could argue that some ‘left’ movements share plenty of those elements, such as the Khmer Rouge. In reality of course, every movement is unique in its particular historical/socio-cultural context.

    What I think might be more useful is looking at those countries which never developed a strong far right movement and ask why. While all the Anglophone countries had their own far right movements they never really got traction among the public in the same way as in Europe or Asia or South America. I’ve heard some philosophers argue that this comes down to a more individualistic philosophical underpinning resulting that in the English speaking world the right tends to move towards a more Liberal (in the old meaning of the world) or Libertarian world view, rather than the Corporatism that seems intrinsic to most forms of authoritarian right wing thought.

    1. David

      Fascism saw Communism as the competition, because it was an alternative answer to the question of how to create a mass radical political movement in the modern age. (Traditional rightist parties had always been elitist, after all). Communism proposed to so through a logic of class struggle and internationalism, whereas Fascism favoured a logic of racial struggle and nationalism. To a considerable extent, the two competed for the same political support, and only one could survive.

      If you take Fascism not as a term of abuse, but as a political programme, I think it can be said that it gets far too much attention from historians. Fascism was an eclectic mixture of nationalism, scientific modernism, mass mobilisation, and organisation for war and struggle. It’s central idea, insofar as it had one, is that life is all about power, and at all levels from the personal to the international, individuals and groups, defined by identities they cannot change, are doomed to struggle for power against each other. The exercise of power by some groups over others is right and proper, and force is an appropriate way to solve disputes. (Eh? Well, I suppose it does sound a bit like IdPol and SJWs, yes. And for that matter neoliberal economics). But, as you say, Fascism had very little actual success as a movement: in practice, it successes amount to Italy, and in a modified form, Germany. But in both cases, the circumstances of Fascist movements taking power were extremely special, and in the case of Germany, at least, as much a product of accident as anything else. Much more interesting are the traditionalist, conservative right-wing regimes of the period, such as those of Franco and Pétain, or Horthy in Hungary, which shared the anti-communism of the fascists, but were based firmly on traditional power structures (Church, Army) and traditional social and political ideas. Maybe we should stop talking about Fascism so much.

      1. vlade

        “Maybe we should stop talking about Fascism so much.”

        Well, the power struggle basis you mention had direct impact on wanting to expand and eliminate, while the “traditionalist” didn’t have explicit elimination goals even when they had expansionistic ones.

      2. hemeantwell

        Fascism saw Communism as the competition, because it was an alternative answer to the question of how to create a mass radical political movement in the modern age. (Traditional rightist parties had always been elitist, after all). Communism proposed to so through a logic of class struggle and internationalism, whereas Fascism favoured a logic of racial struggle and nationalism. To a considerable extent, the two competed for the same political support, and only one could survive

        I think you’re framing things with too much emphasis on the political in the sense we’ve come to use the term. Particularly in Italy, Fascism’s promise to defend property rights, to protect owners from expropriation, was decisive in establishing the difference from Socialism/Communism. What happened in Italy in 1919-22 was a class war that was, compared to the relatively long electoral toils of the Nazis, relatively unmediated by electoral mechanisms. As the authors note, and as I’ve mentioned before here via reference to Tosca’s “The Rise of Italian Fascism,” there was a series of factory and agricultural occupations — largely in northern Italy, with the latter concentrated in the Po valley — that freaked out the bourgeoisie. They formed armed gangs and, in cahoots with the police, went after the union and Socialist party organizations and kicked ass. The SP’s response as an organization capable of calling strikes and putting members in the streets was completely inadequate. I would not go so far as to say that the author’s use of votes as a proxy is without value, but it is not helpful to imply that electoral support somehow set the stage for what happened.

        With the Nazis that’s much more the case. They engaged in a long and in some ways very adept campaign of selling their line.

      3. vao

        I suggest you look up Antanas Smetona and the Lithuanian Nationalist Union, as well as Getúlio Vargas.

        Interestingly, they appreciated Mussolini (to the point that Vargas had reputedly entire portions of laws enacted under Mussolini simply translated and taken over) but were extremely wary of, and even outright hostile to, nazis.

  5. Kurt Sperry

    You can see in the map that Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany were largely free of both fascists and socialists.

  6. Alex morfesis

    Revisiting the “FALL” of fascism today…since today is the 80th anniversary of “Heroes fight like Greeks”…it is OXI day in Hellas…when the mustached little general born in Ithaki (not kefalonia), METAXAS, asked how his country should respond to il duce and his insistence the black booters should be allowed to take a “strategic position” inside Greece…

    OXI…was the country’s response…

    METAXAS actually responded to the insolent Italian fool who woke him up in the middle of the night…

    Alors c’est la Guerre…

  7. Alex

    The correlation looks VERY weak. If you look at the middle graph (socialist vote share vs facsist local branch) and remove just one data point in the top right corner you are left with nothing but noise. I wonder how such distinguished economists can get away with graphs like this.

    1. deplorado

      There is no wonder. I don’t trust anything Acemoglu says, which should probably stain his associates here too. He’s been allowed to write enough obvious garbage in places like Foreign Affairs to disqualify him from being taken in earnest. He pushes an agenda, however veiled, or sometimes not even veiled.

      They are the type of distinguished economist Krugman is, and likely (at least Acemoglu) worse.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Those may be the bones, but don’t you also need the nationalism, xenophobia/racism and militarism to flesh it out? Mussolini’s quote (and mixed metaphors) aside, that’s a lot of weight for those two pillars to support.

      1. vao

        a) corporatism;
        b) ethno-nationalism (with all implications about “pure blood”, “Aryans”, pan-nationalism, etc);
        c) militarism (violence not as ultima ratio, but as legitimate normal approach to politics, social problems, and diplomacy);
        d) mass movement (not just a political party, but also trade unions, youth movements, professional organizations, sports clubs, paramilitary units);
        e) the supreme leader as living embodiment of the national character and ethnic virtues.

        From that perspective, the French Vichy régime was a full-fledged fascist régime.

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      and remember Operation Paperclip, and others, wherein freedom loving CIA, et al. secreted various actual fascists into the USA to advise our government on how to keep socialism(or anything leaning that way) down.
      ergo, we’ve been a fascist country since 1945…see: Friendly Fascism, by Bertram Gross.

      and this, from the art:
      “Many elites came to view traditional centre-right parties as ineffective in stopping socialism and started to turn to Fascists.”

      isn’t this exactly what has happened to the two party system since Reagan?
      all as part of the elite counterrevolution against the “socialist” new Deal?

      right now, two prominant(and mean and ugly) bidness guys in my town have large signs on properties that i know are theirs, but have no identifying signage…that say “Democracy, not Socialism”
      meaning that Biden is the vanguard of the Commie Hordes.
      Nixon’s Silent nmajority, and the footsoldiers of the Southern Strategy are like a Domestic Operation Gladio….a Stay behind Army, organised and funded and ready to go , should Communism(a la, anyone to the left of reagan) make any moves that makes Capital uncomfortable.

      So “Fascism” is merely one of many Tools that the Machine uses to subvert economic and government tools that help the little guy….all the while pretending to help and love that same little guy.
      it’s nefarious, but predictable.
      if the actual left ever makes any real gains in this country, Fascism-Like movements are to be expected.
      it’s how the Machine rolls.

      the most effective and successful mindf&&k operation to date is convincing a large chunk of the country that Hillary, et alia, are examples of Socialists/Communists.
      as long as there’s a functioning demparty, keeping the actual Left at bay, Real Fascism is hardly worth the Elites’ efforts.

      1. Aumua

        Make no mistake: the ‘actual left’ is rising in the U.S., if not in the government itself. People, especially young people are radicalizing on both the left and right. Witness the clashes in the streets that have so far been minor skirmishes. As I have observed before, it seems to be a bit like a finger trap that gets tighter the more each side pulls. The destruction or otherwise removal of private property is a great foil for the far right, just as it has been in the past and Antifa, regardless of what it actually is or represents, is a very effective boogie man for them.

  8. Bern Unit 101

    “Red Scare” is a purposefully deceitful historical construct, designed to obscure the actual Marxist terrorism and sedition that did occur throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, Hungary and above all in the Bolshevik invasion of Poland.

    Paul Gottfried wrote one of the best books on fascism. I would recommend starting there.

    1. JBird4049


      I’m just not sure what the actions of the Soviet empire, and it was an empire, to gain influence and power in other countries has to do with today. In the American empire, the Red Scare was used to justify murder, blackmail, false imprisonments, torture, union busting, and other illegal actions in the United States itself.

      What should we consider the many coups and invasions by the United States always in the name of fighting communism, but usually enriched often foreign American and British companies? Don’t many people use their supposed ideology as a means of getting power or wealth much like Mussolini, Mao, Suharto, or Pinochet?

  9. Bob Tetrault

    Upton Sinclair’s epic European history, eleven books about Lanny Budd, a fictional character, clearly captures the early metamorphosis of Mussolini from a ragamuffin Socialist who flipped 180 once he realized where the money was. That era was fraught with propertied classes doing everything to forestall the Red terror.
    Upton was there. Knew everyone at every level. His forewords acknowledge contribution from such as George Herron, Lincoln Steffens, and many many others. His extended waltz through the period between One and Two culminating in the Airlift clearly established, for me certainly, the fact that class trumps everything. Absolutely everything. Underscored by the world treatment of Spain during its Civil War.
    I was fortunate, in the mid 70’s grad school at UWMadison, to have Harvey Goldberg bring primary documents alive in his tour de force lectures about European history. No one could counter his command of fact and anecdote. These two perspectives, Sinclair and Goldberg, support and inform my personal anti-capitalist worldview.
    The authors of this article are, IMO, gilding a lily, that being the pervasive personal narratives from that period. Primary documents, the ‘stuff of historians and novelists.

  10. Sound of the Suburbs

    Western liberalism had failed miserably in the 1930s and new ideas took hold, but those in favour of Western liberalism looked to bring it back in a different form.
    I have been looking at the history of neoliberalism and this reveals the Mont Pelerin Society went round in a circle and got back to where they started.
    They were initially well aware of past failings and sought to address these problems, but as time went on, they moved further and further to the right and got back to pretty much the old form of Western liberalism, with its old problems.

    In the early days of the Mont Pelerin Society, they were acutely aware of the problems of Western liberalism and none more so than the Germans.
    They looked for a form of liberalism that would also provide a stable society, and came up with Ordoliberalism, which they implemented in Germany. It was a huge success.

    The rest of the Mont Pelerin Society gradually forgot the problems of the old Western liberalism, and unintentionally got back to pretty much where they started.

    I have been charting our progress.
    1920s/2000s – neoclassical economics, high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons (CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase
    1929/2008 – Wall Street crash
    1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, trade wars, austerity, rising nationalism and extremism
    1940s – World war.
    Everything is progressing nicely and we are approaching the final destination.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Are you sure it’s the same?
      Let’s double check

      Mariner Eccles, FED chair 1934 – 48, observed what the capital accumulation of neoclassical economics did to the US economy in the 1920s.
      “a giant suction pump had by 1929 to 1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth. This served then as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied themselves the kind of effective demand for their products which would justify reinvestment of the capital accumulation in new plants. In consequence as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped”

      This is what it’s supposed to be like.
      A few people have all the money and everyone else gets by on debt.
      Wealth concentrates until you get a financial crisis.

      It’s the same.

  11. Daniel Raphael

    Yves, what you forget–or did not know–is that Mussolini was very much an activist on the left, before he went “hard right” and marched onward to power. The parallels with Trump are necessarily inconsistent and broad-brush for the most part, but at least this specific segue from left to right, is fairly precise.

    Thought you ought to know.

  12. Susan the other

    The institution of “politics” itself is a form of controlled radicalization. A form of decision making on a social level. Our modern politics is pathetically close to a baboon troop – the slightly radical trouble makers eventually humble themselves in front of the disgruntled but patient alpha baboon – the supplicants usually kidnap a baby baboon to hold as a symbolic gesture of their social morality (really – I saw this very behavior on a Nova(?) documentary.) In terms of nationalized politics, I do think fascism is a case of nationalism (reacting to the wealth of the nation being drawn away by internationalists) gone critical mass. Nobody knows when to back off, like a good rebel baboon; instead everybody always “overplays their hand” – as Nixon used to say. I think it is true today. I also think it is what is used to “justify” war. But, bottom line for me, I think nationalism and fascism are not dirty synonyms. I’m in favor of good nationalism that cooperates internationally while it protects national interests. Fascism? – I think fascism is the immoral impulse to profit at all costs. And nobody today is talking about the necrotic effects of globalism gone bad. Something must be done to stop it. And I do not think fascism will stop it as fascism will simply serve to disguise it and perpetuate it. So that leaves us only with our natural, anxious tendency to be social creatures. Socialism.

    1. Watt4Bob

      “I think fascism is the immoral impulse to profit at all costs. And nobody today is talking about the necrotic effects of globalism gone bad. Something must be done to stop it. And I do not think fascism will stop it as fascism will simply serve to disguise it and perpetuate it. So that leaves us only with our natural, anxious tendency to be social creatures. Socialism.”

      Thank you.

      Very much agree with your comment, I would elaborate a bit, as in;

      Fascism is rooted in, and the natural end game of the immoral impulse to profit at all costs.

      I’m sort of disappointed in our seeming difficulty in recognizing this simple fact.

  13. Kirk Seidenbecker

    And another angle… Wilhelm Reich’s “Mass Psychology of Fascism”

    From Quora –

    Kelly La Rue, Veteran, Small Business Owner, Master Electrician –

    Why do people choose an authoritarian government when it is not in their best interest? Because of sexual repression. Wilhelm Reich was an early Freudian psychologist –

    “Suppression of the natural sexuality in the child, particularly of its genital sexuality, makes the child apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, good and adjusted in the authoritarian sense; it paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties. In brief, the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation. At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.“

    And from a Stuart Jeanne Bramhall Article –

    “Reich’s primary premise is that immense success of fascism – in Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan (he is also concerned about Islamic fundamentalism and mentions “Arab” societies) – is based in a perverse tendency of working people to support and vote for conservative and reactionary candidates. He feels this tendency is universal to all industrialized societies. He also asserts, with detailed anthropological, psychological, economic and political data, that it operates totally independently of national, cultural or ideological factors – or the personal characteristics of right wing leaders who seek to exploit it.

    According to Reich, the strong allure of reactionary politics – and overt fascism – is based in mankind’s 6,000 year history of rigid patriarchal, authoritarian and hierarchal social organization, particularly in its effect on childrearing practices. He believes the end result is a population of adults with a strong inner conflict between a biologically innate desire for freedom and the responsibility that goes along with that freedom. And that this conflict is based in an inability to accept that we, as human beings, are basically biologic creatures.”

    1. Ron

      I’m about 1/3 of the way through Reich’s book and it often seems like a blueprint for Trump’s actions.

  14. Sound of the Suburbs

    What did the economists learn in the 1940s?
    In the paper from 1943 you can see …..
    They knew Government debt and deficits weren’t a problem as they had seen the massive Government debt and deficits of WW2.
    They knew full employment was feasible as they had seen it in WW2.
    After WW2 Governments aimed to create full employment as policymakers knew it could be done and actually maximised wealth creation in the economy.

    Balancing the budget was just something they used to do before WW2, but it wasn’t actually necessary.
    Government debt and deficits weren’t a problem.
    They could now solve all those problems they had seen in the 1930s, which caused politics to swing to the extremes and populist leaders to rise.

    They could eliminate unemployment and create a full employment economy.
    They could put welfare states in place to ensure the economic hardship of the 1930s would never be seen again.
    They didn’t have to use austerity; they could fight recessions with fiscal stimulus.

    We forgot everything they learned after the 1930s, and removed the things that stopped politics swinging to the extremes and populist leaders rising.

    1. JBird4049

      “We forgot everything they learned after the 1930s, and removed the things that stopped politics swinging to the extremes and populist leaders rising.”

      Did we forget? Or did they decide to not remember and even eradicate the memory?

  15. lou strong

    In my view the method of comparing 1919 and 1924 elections is not workable for the simple reason that while the 1919 ones (the first with male universal suffrage ) were free, the 1924 ones, after Mussolini took the power in 1922 , were not free, the Black Shirts armed with their truncheons directly controlled the ballot boxes.
    The PNF ( National Fascist Party ) was the merger of the fascists and of the nationalists , which was another right-wing party, and in 1922, when Mussolini was appointed PM , he was in minority in the parliament with his party, so until 1924 he ruled with the votes of of fascists , nationalists , liberal-conservatives and the populars ( the catholic party who , after WWII, gave birth to the Democrazia Cristiana ).
    So, it’s true that fascists exploited the fears and idiosincrasies of all the conservative and moderate constituencies and political areas , but this was no mistery both in the public opinion and in the political and parliamentary level in those times.
    Italy was a constitutional monarchy and in 1922 the king appointed the far right-winger New Man for a law and order policy and government.Then in 1924 the fixed elections gave to Mussolini the chance to establish, one year later , a single-party dull dictatorship.
    It’s not accurate to say that the Socialist Party was taken over by the Communist wing in 1918. The united factions of the socialists under the same ticket resulted the first party in 1919 with almost 33% of the proportional elections, then the communist wing seceded and formed the communist party starting with the Red Biennium which is properly described.
    Another detail which has not much sense is to compare local fascist support with Jews deportations.
    Until the 1938 complete u-turn ,with the establishment of tha “racial laws ” against Jews,in the fascist ideology and policy there was no place for antisemitism.
    Incidentally, Jabotinsky, the “spiritual father ” of Likud , was an admirer of Mussolini.
    The absolute majority of Italian Jews were filled with Italian nationalist spirit and supported the regime, there were Jews even in the high spheres of the fascist party who fell in disgrace all in a sudden in 1938.
    Anyway deportations were carried out after 1943, when Italy was split between the south , controlled by the Allied Forces,and the centre- north controlled by fascists and nazis . Being in 1500 AD southern Italy under the rule of a lateral branch of the Spanish Bourbons, Jews were expulsed by southern Italy at the same time that in Spain, and quite none of them went back in the south after the italian reunification. In other words, at the time of deportations both there were no Jews to persecute in the south, and the south had been already freed by the Allies.
    Finally, the quote about Mussolini and the corporate power etc is wrong because is based on a wrong translations .The meaning of corporation in Italian is completely different and means something like “social body, social entity”.
    Mussolini was effectively supported by the Italian big capital , so kind of “corporatism” in English , but in the quote he was saying something like that fascism regime is the supreme organization of the national social entities.

  16. r. clayton

    Coincidentally, a few days ago I read the essay The Original Fascist by Angelo Codevilla. Codevilla presents a great (bad) man historical view, where Mussolini started as a socialist (Codevilla definitely wants you to know Mussolini was a socialist), but then came to believe within-border nationalist unity is more important than trans-nationalist worker solidarity and voila: fascism.

  17. Juan Pedro

    Ernst Nolte, who you cite near the top of the article was a student of Nazi party member Martin Heidegger. Nazi apologists have been using his paper since the 80’s to whitewash the crimes of the Third Reich by claiming it was a rational reaction to Bolshevism. Strange that you would cite him uncritically in this post.

    Jurgen Habermas took this to task many years ago.

  18. Phil in KC

    I was taught many decades ago at a land grant college in Poly Sci 101 that liberalism was the moderating force in politics that resisted fascism on one side and communism on the other. Although not to be confused with centrism, liberals often found themselves in the middle ground between extremes, and made compromises to protect democratic freedoms and capitalism. However, when a crisis arose, as in Germany in the early 30’s, a crisis which liberalism was unable to address, then the populace looked to the edges for solutions. Behold the Bolshevik revolution, which overthrew the weak and ineffective government of Kerensky, as another example.

    Moderating politicians are often derided as weaklings, mushy, or RINOs and DINOs in our system, but they play an important role in “balancing the ship of state. These are the politicians who are most at risk in a polarizing environment. I’ve noted that over the last twenty years or so that these are the types of Senators and Representatives who retire rather than new too close to a party line, the ones who find the work of legislating just too exhausting and unrewarding. In their place come more extreme replacements.

    I think there are Trumpian replacements for Trump, should he lose, but they will be better politicians and likely more popular and more dangerous.

    1. Noone from Nowheresville

      And based on what has been accomplished by Trump and the various levels of government / politicians on both sides of the two-faced political coin, I’d say he’s already a better politician than the media makes him out to be. Even the seemingly powerless & failing / flailing Democrats are more popular and dangerous than they appear to be.

      All we talk about is the entirely predictable latest shiny new outrage. The whole is thing is verging on scripted reality-tv farce. No, not verging. I think we passed that quite a while back.

      1. Watt4Bob

        I see it differently, Trump has given cover for a process that’s been going on for some time.

        The creation of the DHS under ‘W’ was a complete reorganization of our government, a continuation of the right’s battle to erase the New Deal, and install a vast army of right-wing dead-enders within the bureaucratic systems of our government.

        We’re so busy being offended by Trump the front-man, that we’re not paying close enough attention to the machinations of those who’ve been working so hard behind the scenes to finish the work inspired by the Powell memorandum, and prevent any future back-sliding.

        IIRC, Trump made a deal with the Republican leadership that allowed them to chose the Supreme Court judges, should there be any choosing to do during his term.

        IOW, Trump is not executing his own plan, he doesn’t have one, beyond being the ‘boss’.

        Trump has provided immense utility in providing cover for a plan that’s been going on for over fifty years.

  19. everydayjoe

    I remember reading in another site or maybe here about research published in The Journal of Democracy that established correlation between facist impulses as a counter to socialism.

  20. @pe

    Trump campaigned to the left of the right? So what? The NSDAP campaigned with an appeal to the left of the right, hence “national socialist”.

    But more importantly — I see a bit of playing with fire on this site. There’s a great deal of hyperbolic anger at the PMC, with almost no reference to the evangelical-entrepeneurial class that is the other constitutive major social dynamic in the US. Both are constructs that cut across classes, the PMC reaching down into the academic working class, such as teachers, and the EE touching salesman, independent craftworkers and such. But the EE is particularly privileged: while the PMC in the mid-range is dominated by “meritocrats”, which have large components of people who entered the system via the academic route with low capital (leading it to be more racially mixed), the EE has lots of people who keep their position via capital — folks who own businesses, farms, etc, who inherited that property in some form.

    So combining a (angry) focus on the PMC (the rootless secularist coastal cosmopolitans) while ignoring the EE (the church going, salt of the earth, old-family middle-Americans) with discussion of left-leaning autarchy including nationalistic economics and issues with immigration… while downplaying issues with Trump as TDS (thus missing the clear class-cutting elitism of male and white privilege which is more important than the policy details) while at the same time reacting in an exaggerated and intellectually hollow manner to identity politics (which is quite a bit more complicated than warrants simple dismissal, even if anti-colonialism is a bit fraught) … well, you can see, can’t you, how that can form a complex which might not be what you’re actually wanting to construct? That you might be making friends with folks who may not really have the same agenda you hope to advance, even if on the surface (“technically” (which is not always the best kind of right)) they look to match up with you?

    Flame away, I guess — but that won’t help if there’s something substantive to look at.

    1. Lambert Strether

      It is true that I post frequently on my people, the class I know best (“Write what you know,” as the saying goes.) As for “hyperbole,” see Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal!, and The People, No!. If anything, I am far too mild and kind. Since the PMC runs the media, finance, health care, the universities, the politics industry, the intelligence community, and most of the government, I am sure you can see why this blog focuses on them; perhaps you will find the content you seek elsewhere.

      > That you might be making friends with folks who may not really have the same agenda you hope to advance, even if on the surface (“technically” (which is not always the best kind of right)) they look to match up with you?

      I don’t even know what this means. I have friends in RL. I don’t try to win or lose them through posting. Is your comment meant as a sophisticated form of liberal Democrat policing?

  21. Lydia Maria Child

    Fascism = feudalism + industrialization (which includes mass media)

    Fascism is merely European imperialism turned inwards.

  22. Kiers

    Professors Acemoglu, De Luca, De Feo, and Russo have asked the right question: ‘Whats causing the ascendancy of fascism today’?

    All fascist movements need money support: for today’s equivalent one should look at whether the Koch brothers’ money was involved internationally with Mercers and even Soros. Rigging “movements” internationally is not beyond the scope of foreign policy. Corporate influence and confluence with foreign policy also has plenty of precedent, be the corporates banana producers or Exxon, the hubris is real. Only this time “it’s come home”.

    Of course, people’s frustrations are real, but the response via the cocaine- snorted thesis (as it were) of Bannon, Mercer, Koch Brothers, calling on minions like Giuliani et al stinks to high heaven.

  23. Watt4Bob

    ‘Whats causing the ascendancy of fascism today’?

    IMHO, never-ending tax-breaks for the very rich have allowed them to purchase our ‘representatives’ on the cheap, which has led to relaxed regulation on bad behavior.

    Repeal of the FCC fairness doctrine, allowing the sort of unlimited lying we have now.

    And with the insane opinion of the SCOTUS, that money = free speech, and so, is not bribery, and you get a top-to-bottom criminogenic environment in Washington.

    And as Susan the Other says up stairs;

    “I think fascism is the immoral impulse to profit at all costs.”

    Our current condition is the result of deliberately loosing that immoral impulse.

  24. Carlos Stoll

    This article attributes support for fascism to fear of “socialism”, which it treats as a synonym of “Red Scare”. This seems to reflect sloppy thinking, firstly because “Red Scare” is a term from American history that to my knowledge has no equivalent in Italian historiography, and secondly because the fear in question seems to have been fear of a violent uprising by socialists inspired by the Bolshies, namely fear of an event, whereas socialism is not an event but a political system that may be the outcome of a violent uprising or may be the outcome of other political processes. As a matter of fact Mussolini’s principal socialist adversary during the 1920s, Giacomo Matteotti, drew the ire of the fascists precisely because he denounced fascist violence during electoral campaigns and was consequently a champion of democratic values, not of violent rebellion. Matteotti was eventually murdered by fascist goons.
    The right-wing American journalist Jonah Goldberg — a contributor to National Review — wrote a book called Friendly Fascism with the aim of identifying socialism with tyranny and casting the right as the eternal defender of freedom. Consequently Goldberg was forced to omit the democratic socialist Matteotti from his lengthy account of Italian fascism, despite Matteotti’s central role in opposing Mussolini’s rise to power. This fraudulent maneuver is exposed in “The second death of Giacomo Matteotti” at
    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that no Italian edition of Friendly Fascism was ever published.
    I have great respect for Daron Acemoğlu and I regret that he seems to be following in Goldberg’s footstps by identifying socialism willy-nilly with authoritarian politics. Authoritarian politics is associated both with the right and with the left, as are democratic politics. This shows what a blunt analytical tool the right-left spectrum is.

  25. James McFadden

    How can someone write an article about the rise of Italian fascism, and its root causes, without mentioning Gramsci? Only a bunch of economists, unschooled in history, could overlook such an obvious central thinker. Instead they try to find insight in the linear analysis of a bunch of dots on a plot with a line drawn through them – calling their plot “a systematic empirical investigation” – while failing to even mention the statistical significance of that line – as if praxis is embodied in linear analysis. But even more disturbing is that 70 comments failed to mention Gramsci who performed the most thoughtful analysis of this period.

    Gramsci’s writings on “The Southern Question” provide insight into the divide and conquer tactics of the Italian bourgeoisie who also used race – defining the southern Italians as biologically inferior – much as American fascists use meritocracy and white supremacy to divide us. Gramsci recognized “mature bourgeois state rather as an arena in which conflicts between competing fractions of the bourgeoisie are regulated” [Gramsci reader]

    Gramsci: “It is well known what kind of ideology has been disseminated in myriad ways among the masses in the North, by the propagandists of the bourgeoisie: the South is the ball and chain which prevents the social development of Italy from progressing more rapidly; the Southerners are biologically inferior beings, semi-barbarians or total barbarians, by natural destiny; if the South is backward, the fault does not lie with the capitalist system or with any other historical cause, but with Nature, which has made the Southerners lazy, incapable, criminal and barbaric—only tempering this harsh fate with the purely individual explosion of a few great geniuses, like isolated palm-trees in an arid and barren desert.”

    “Readers from the United States, accustomed to seeing through the prism of our own racial lens, may fail to see how racialized the divisions within Italian society were, with southern Italians, white in the U.S. racial schematic, seen as dark savages and barbarians within Italy … Southerners weren’t just another race; they were, in the eyes of ‘the clique of writers who made up the so-called positivist school’ a disabled race.” [Gramsci Reader]

    “for a pogrom to be possible, it is necessary that the ideology of ‘ two impenetrable worlds’, of races, etc., should be widely diffused. … The outbreak of the World War has shown how ably the ruling classes and groups know how to exploit these apparently innocuous ideologies, in order to set in motion the waves of public opinion” Gramsci

    But the most obvious flaw in this article is its failure to recognize that American fascism long predates Italian and German fascism. It was there from the beginning with the creation of white supremacy, the invention of the white race, and authoritarian and vicious killing and enslavement of peoples of color. This is best captured by Ibram X. Kendi: “Racism and capitalism are conjoined twins. The idea of meritocracy is inherently racist.”

    Corporate control of our political system is also Fascist. Benito Mussolini stated: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Just look at political fealty to corporate money to reveal we are a corporate plutocracy.

    Lastly, American fascism is embodied by Trump’s rhetoric and the brutality and impunity of police. Until we acknowledge our brutal history, change the structural racism of our institutions, end corporate rule, reject our racist myths (meritocracy, manifest destiny), and make reparations for past wrongs, we will remain a fascist state.

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