I suppose it would be smart to wait until I got to the part where Italy can properly be said to be Mussolini’s before writing about a book called Mussolini’s Italy, but my progress through this volume has been so slow — “deliberate” would be a kinder word, if less accurate — that I might lose the thread entirely before then.
Bosworth’s book does a lot of what I like histories to do: it locates Mussolini and Fascism within larger currents of Italian and European history; it reaches back to trace continuities, so as to make the differences of the new era clearer; it’s careful with explanations; and it shows the contingency of how events looked at the time. In the particular case of Italian Fascism, it shows clearly how the desire to make things anew rose from the experience of soldiers on the fronts of World War I. While the war didn’t blow up the Italian state, as it did the Russian, German, Austrian and Ottoman Empires, it revealed the old order as inadequate to the demands of the returning soldiers. Bosworth is very good at showing how various threads that became Fascism arose from a largely inchoate desire for something new in national life that would give meaning to the sacrifices of the front.
October 1922, the month the Fascists seized power with their March on Rome, is closer to World War I than it’s common to see in histories that concentrate on western Europe. Only a month earlier, Turkish forces under Atatürk regained control of Smyrna, effectively ending the war in the former Ottoman Empire and deciding it in favor of Turkish nationalist forces. October 1922 was also the month when the Bolsheviks captured Vladivostok, ending the Russian Civil War in the far east and cementing Communist control of the Tsar’s former empire. The Soviet-Polish War was only a year in the past. In Germany, there had been armed uprisings in 1920 and 1921. So while I’ve often read of the Fascist seizure of power as a harbinger of the politics of the 1930s, it might be just as illuminating to see it as another 19th century regime swept away by the First World War.
I’m a little past a third of the way through, and Bosworth is just starting to describe actual Fascist rule. I’ll see if he’s as thorough with the execution as he has been with the setup. But probably not speedily.
I don’t remember much from this book, but what I remember about Fascist Italy from other histories is the way in which Mussolini and the Fascists envisioned their regime as a ferocious beast that would devour its neighbors and strike fear into the hearts of non-Italians everywhere, when in reality it was nothing but a yapping little chihuahua that mostly served as Nazi Germany’s lapdog. Fascist Italy may have been a menace to Italians, but it was hardly a menace to the world. Mussolini himself realized this toward the war’s end and contemptuously dismissed Italy as a nation of feeble and imbecilic sheep who were unworthy of the Fascist vision. His view was harsh, but it illustrates the point that even a charismatic leader has to have something to work with in the people he leads if he’s going to realize his vision. Hitler certainly didn’t have that problem.