Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Blackshirts and Reds , First Published at Cyrano’s Journal, for fair use only
Author Michael Parenti
WHILE WALKING THROUGH NEW YORK’S LITTLE ITALY, I passed a novelty shop that displayed posters and T-shirts of Benito Mussolini giving the fascist salute. When I entered the shop and asked the clerk why such items were being offered, he replied, “Well, some people like them. And, you know, maybe we need someone like Mussolini in this country.” His comment was a reminder that fascism survives as something more than a historical curiosity.
Worse than posters or T-shirts are the works by various writers bent on “explaining” Hitler, or “reevaluating” Franco, or in other ways sanitizing fascist history. In Italy, during the 1970s, there emerged a veritable cottage industry of books and articles claiming that Mussolini not only made the trains run on time but also made Italy work well. All these publications, along with many conventional academic studies, have one thing in common: They say little if anything about the class policies of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. How did these regimes deal with social services, taxes, business, and the conditions of labor? For whose benefit and at whose expense? Most of the literature on fascism and Nazism does not tell us.(1)
Plutocrats Choose Autocrats
Let us begin with a look at fascism’s founder. Born in 1883, the son of a blacksmith, Benito Mussolini had an early manhood marked by street brawls, arrests, jailings, and violent radical political activities. Before World War I Mussolini was a socialist. A brilliant organizer, agitator, and gifted journalist, he became editor of the Socialist Party’s official newspaper. Yet many of his comrades suspected him of being less interested in advancing socialism than in advancing himself. Indeed, when the Italian upper class tempted him with recognition, financial support, and the promise of power, he did not hesitate to switch sides.
By the end of World War I, Mussolini, the socialist, who had organized strikes for workers and peasants had become Mussolini, the fascist, who broke strikes on behalf of financiers and landowners.
By the end of World War I, Mussolini, the socialist, who had organized strikes for workers and peasants had become Mussolini, the fascist, who broke strikes on behalf of financiers and landowners. Using the huge sums he received from wealthy interests, he projected himself onto the national scene as the acknowledged leader of i fasci di combattimento, a movement composed of black-shirted ex-army officers and sundry toughs who were guided by no clear political doctrine other than a militaristic patriotism and conservative dislike for anything associated with socialism and organized labor. The fascist Blackshirts spent their time attacking trade unionists, socialists, communists, and farm cooperatives. Continue reading