A yearning for fascism?
Palazzo del Popolo d'Italia, Milano

Palazzo del Popolo d’Italia o Palazzo dell’Informazione, arch. Giovanni Muzio, 1938-1942. Bas-relief by Mario Sironi

“Fascism in an Armani tie”

On the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Italy on April 25, 1995,1 just one year after Berlusconi’s first election victory, Umberto Eco gave a lecture at Columbia University, called “Ur-Fascism”, which was immediately published by the New York Review of Books (before being published in Italy in 1997). He pointed out the overlaps between the fascism of earlier years and that of the present day:

“It would be difficult for [fascists] to reappear in the same form in different historical circumstances. […] I have no difficulty in acknowledging that today the Italian Alleanza nazionale […], certainly a right-wing party, has by now very little to do with the old fascism. […] Nevertheless, even though political regimes can be overthrown and ideologies can be criticized and disowned, behind a regime and its ideology there is always a way of thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits, of obscure instincts and unfathomable drives.”

For Eco, the strength of fascism resides in its capacity to adapt, its plasticity. It can be reborn for it has been a very flexible kind of common archetype:

“Nevertheless, historical priority does not seem to me a sufficient reason to explain why the word fascism became a synecdoche, that is, a word that could be used for different totalitarian movements. This is not because fascism contained in itself, so to speak in their quintessential state, all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions”2.

That is why “the fascist game can be played in many forms”. Eco, who at the end of his lecture lists fourteen qualities or ingredients of original eternal fascism, is not alone. Fourteen years later, José Saramago wrote in El Pais:

“I have no doubt that Berlusconi wants to restore fascism in Italy. It is not a fascism like that of the 1930s, made up of ridiculous gestures such as raising an outstretched arm. It has other equally ridiculous ones. It will not be fascism with black shirts, but in an Armani tie”3.

Since then, the political situation has worsened. In the European elections of May 26, 2019, Matteo Salvini’s League garnered 34.3% of the votes, to which we need to add the 6.5% obtained by the other far-right party, the Brothers of Italy. We may also observe a remarkable rise by the radical right in three other EU countries: in Hungary, the right-wing antidemocratic and anti-immigrant ruling party Fidesz (affiliated to the right-wing parliamentary group in the European Parliament) won 52% of the vote, and the far-right Jobbik party took 16.3%; in Poland, the far-right Law and Justice party, which is also in power, garnered 45.3% of the vote; while in the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage’s far-right Brexit party got 31% of the vote. Confronted with this profusion of “morbid symptoms”4, academics (Luciano Canfora, Piero Ignazi, Domenico De Masi, Donald Sassoon, Enzo Traverso), journalists (Siegmund Ginzberg, Eugenio Scalfari, Bernard Guetta, Furio Colombo, Natalia Aspesi, Gad Lerner), novelists and artists (Michela Murgia, Andrea Camilleri, Roberto Saviano, Paolo Virzì, Antonio Scurati), along with international figures (Madelaine Albright, George Soros), bureaucrats (Franco Gabrielli, the head of the Italian police) and men of the church (Father Zanotelli and even Pope Francis) have referred to “neofascism”, “fascization”, “proto-fascism”, “post-fascism”, and “post-industrial fascism”, also known as “fascism 2.0” or “fascism of the third millennium”5. They have raised the possibility of a new type of fascism which, far from questioning democratic “forms” head-on, exploits them to assert xenophobic values and introduce authoritarian procedures.

On December 6, 2019, in its 53rd report on the socio-economic situation in Italy, the Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali (CENSIS) noted a drift towards hatred, intolerance, and racism against minorities, particularly Jews. It also revealed that 48.2% of Italians were in favor of being ruled by a strong man, placed above parliament. This wish, more common among workers (62%), less educated people (62%), and those on low incomes (56.4%) may be attributed to the ineffectiveness of politics and the growing distance between representatives and those they represent, two factors which engender hopes—thought to have been relegated forever to the attics of history—of “a strong man who sorts everything out”6. According to the 32nd EURISPES report, published in late January 2020, 19.8% of Italians think that Mussolini was a great leader who only made a few mistakes7.

Luciano Canfora, who has written two pamphlets on the question, has taken up and developed Eco’s diagnosis8. For him, fascism is a rarefied and multiform phenomenon, grounded in a combination of two factors of seduction: first, fear of and discrimination against foreigners and diversity; and second, demagogic strategies of defending the weak accompanied by welfare promises. It is a gradual and lasting phenomenon: in 1919, Italy slipped into fascism in a series of stages; and far from ending with the military defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan, fascism remained alive in Spain, Portugal, South America, Indonesia, and Greece9. This interpretation, which sheds light on the international dimension to fascism, converges with the definition put forward by other historians, especially those working outside Italy. In 2010, Robert Paxton also noted the possibility of a renewal of fascism in democratic countries:

“Neofascism resembles classical fascism in its fear of national decadence, its xenophobia, and its penchant for a strong-handed approach. It differs in its economic liberalism, lack of expansionist or belligerent project, and its general acceptance of the regimes in place. […] An economic catastrophe, or a severe crisis in national security, could give opportunities to fascism, even in the most embedded democracies. Viewed in this way, the period of fascism is not over, even if it returns under a different name”10.

More recently, Enzo Traverso in turn has written about not only the transnational dimension but also the transhistorical dimension to fascism, arguing that it may become a concept exceeding the period which engendered it, like other notions in our political lexicon11.

In Italy, Canfora’s declarations sparked a wave of protest, especially from historians of fascism. For Emilio Gentile, who has always emphasized the totalitarian dimension of fascism (in opposition to the theses of Hannah Arendt and Renzo de Felice), one may only talk of fascism when three dimensions coexist. The first is organizational, with a youth movement from the middle classes who seek to conquer power by simultaneously employing terror, parliamentary tactics, and compromise, to create a new regime and destroy parliamentary democracy. The second is institutional, with a police apparatus controlling and repressing all forms of dissent, a single party, a political system grounded in the symbiosis between the party and the state, an economy organized along corporative lines, and a foreign policy guided by the pursuit of power. The third and final dimension is cultural, with a culture based on mythic thought, a tragic and activist sentiment about life, the myth of youth, an anti-ideological and pragmatic ideology, a totalitarian conception of the primacy of politics, and a civilian ethics rooted in the absolute subordination of citizens to the state12.

Starting from this overall definition, Gentile’s short essay takes the form of a dialogue with a fictitious interlocutor to show that the idea of a return of fascism is meaningless, both in historical and political terms13. After going over the generic use of the term “fascist”, starting in the 1920s in polemics pitting communists against socialists, with the invention of the figure of the “fascist antifascist”, he points out that the term was increasingly used as an insult to discredit one’s opponents14. His definition of fascism as a totalitarian regime comes with a strict chronology: its date of birth did not coincide with the founding of the Fasci di combattimento in 1919, but came two years later, in 1921. Additionally, it does not make sense to talk of a return of fascism for that would mean that antifascism failed to eradicate the phenomenon in 1945. Furthermore, any parallel between Salvini’s League and fascism is said to be absurd, for even though the early fascists hated Rome, no fascist would have wished to see Italian unity unravel or disintegrate. The same goes for the comparison between fascists and populists: today’s populists did not live through the war, and have not risked their lives; and, unlike the populist leaders of today, Mussolini despised the people15.

Historian Alberto De Bernardi’s analysis has several fundamental points in common with that of Gentile. He identifies six characteristics of fascism linked to its revolutionary and totalitarian nature: a charismatic leader, the party-militia, corporatism, organicist statism, the sacralization of politics, and the friend-enemy dialectic (with the violent destruction of the latter). Given that not all these characteristics are reproduced, one may conclude that “fascism is dead”16. Still, what has not died is the habit of raising the alarm of fascism (as initiated by the communists in the 1920s), and this has left much debris from which the Italian republic has never managed to fully extricate itself. The categories of “fascism” and “antifascism” have been misused from a historical point of view, and this is said to have paralyzed political initiative:

“If each present-day adversary is merely the reincarnation of that of the past, how should one go about beating them? Returning into exile after having withdrawn to the Aventine Hill? Reconstructing the Garibaldi Brigades, rebuilding antifascist unity with Fico in the stead of De Gasperi or of Moro? Or else, being unable to draw on these alternatives, make do with a good protest march wearing an ANPI [Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia, or National Association of Italian Partisans] scarf”17.

That is why De Bernardi suggests moving beyond the antifascist ideal:

“Perhaps there are conditions for [...] leaving behind all the narratives in the republic’s 20th-century history, especially those about its origins, and for ceasing to use words and myths which, objectively, are now outdated.”

In other terms, antifascism has to accept its dissolution in a “happily adjective-free” democracy18.

The many questions raised by these contrasting positions, which are not the preserve of historians, are all extremely important from a historical and political point of view. In what follows, I will limit myself to going over the tension between antifascist paradigms and the survival of an indulgent, even benevolent attitude towards the Mussolini regime in the wake of the Second World War. This is an Italian specificity which, to my mind, casts particular light on issues in current historical debate.

Anteo Palazzo del Cinema, Milano

Anteo Palazzo del Cinema, former headquarters of the fascist district group Gabriele D’Anzunzio, then headquarters of the Italian Communist Party, arch. Renzo Gerla, Ferruccio Bigi, 1937-1938

The constitutional arch and the antifascist paradigm

Since the end of the Second World War, the Italian republic has been symbolically grounded in the resistance, the liberation, and the constitution. Anti-fascism underpins the “constitutional arch” comprising all the political parties involved in drawing up the 1948 constitution (Christian Democracy, the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the Action Party, the Italian Democratic Socialist Party, the Italian Liberal Party, and the Italian Republican Party), and excluding groups not sharing the antifascist values contained in the constitution itself (the Italian Social Movement and the Monarchist Party)19. This political vision is embodied in two lines of discourse. During celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the liberation, the president of the Italian chamber of deputies, Giovanni Gronchi, defined the resistance as a common reference point shared by all the democratic forces in the country, above and beyond political divides, stating: “on both sides we have to work with purity of soul and intent to prevent the legacy of the resistance being dispersed”. Ten years later, it was the turn of the president of the republic, social democrat Giuseppe Saragat. Separating the responsibilities of Italians from those of fascism, he reasserted that there was an unbroken link between antifascism and the resistance. He also stated that the resistance, far from emanating from one political party, had been the act of the Italian people as a whole, organized into different allied parties, thus representing a supreme act of reconciliation of the vast majority of Italians, now free once more20. This institutional narrative, intended for both a domestic and foreign audience, suggests a direct line of descent running from the antifascism of the 1920s and 1930s to the resistance movement born in 1943, setting out an image of mass antifascism: the resistance, in which only a small minority of Italians participated, is celebrated as a struggle for liberation conducted by the entire people against the fascist Nazi invader. It thus tends to refute the widespread consent for fascism among large swathes of Italian society between 1922 and 1943. As Nicola Gallerano notes, the “reductive interpretation of an opposition between fascism and antifascism” encourages “large-scale repression of the contradictory and harrowing process experienced by the collective psyche in ridding itself of its compromises with fascism”21.

Even though the late 1960s student movement disputed the unitary and consensual image of the resistance22, “antifascist paradigms” continued to function for a long while. In October 1973, after the coup in Chile, the communist leader Enrico Berlinguer called for a “broad entente” government to be formed by democratic and antifascist forces. His declaration paved the way for national unity governments and the election as president of the republic of Sandro Pertini, a former resistance leader and president of the chamber of deputies, just after the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro in 1978. The politics of the constitutional arch, which had marginalized the post-fascist right, went into decline in the 1980s amidst the resumption of the Cold War, when the secretary of the Italian Socialist Party, Bettino Craxi, chose to do away with antifascism as a discriminating feature of political legitimacy23. In 1987 he met Gianfranco Fini, who had succeeded Giorgio Almirante as head of the Italian Social Movement. At the same time, historian Renzo De Felice granted a long interview to Giuliano Ferrara, a former communist with closely ties to Craxi, who had become one of Silvio Berlusconi’s main advisers. The interview was published on the front page of the Corriere della Sera under the title “why the rhetoric of antifascism must fall”. In addition to crediting the fascist regime with several positive initiatives in the field of industrial policy and social protection, De Felice declared that Italian fascism to be “outside the umbra cone of the Holocaust”. That is why he called for a historicization of fascism (“we can reason, inform, and talk about fascism more serenely”), entailing moving beyond the antifascist myth (antifascist prejudices “are increasingly losing their meaning and value”). To his mind, this historicization was the essential precondition for revising the constitution along presidentialist lines: “a discourse seeking to innovate the political system naturally runs up against the problem of historical revisionism: if we wish to move forward to a new republic, we obviously have to get rid of the prejudices on which the previous one was founded”. In other terms, institutional reform necessarily entailed abolishing constitutional rules forbidding the reconstruction of the Fascist Party24.

However, the country then went through a profound political crisis, triggered by judicial investigations into the endemic system of corruption, as well as by the implosion of the Soviet Union. Within a few years of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the parties involved in combating fascism and in drawing up the new constitution (Christian Democracy, the Socialist Party, the Liberal Party, and the Republican Party) all collapsed, the Communist Party was transformed (in the “Bolognina turn” conducted by Achille Occhetto), new political formations were born (the Northern League and Forza Italia), and, last but not least, the Social Movement mutated into the National Alliance (at the conference in Fiuggi)25. These were the circumstances in which Silvio Berlusconi recognized the legitimacy of the Social Movement with his first intervention in Italian political debate, in 1993, when he lent his support to Gianfranco Fini in the municipal elections in Rome; the following year, he formed his first government with the Northern League and the National Alliance26.

The “sommerso” of the Italian Republic

Independently of all these transformations in the early 1990s, in Italy there has always been a strong, lasting submerged stratum (or “sommerso”) which has not supported antifascism and has continued to encourage authoritarian solutions27. First, the fascists did not simply disappear overnight. As of the end of the war, former members of the Italian Social Republic (1943-45)—such as Pino Romualdi, Junio Valerio Borghese, and Giorgio Almirante—started to regroup28. The amnesty for crimes under general, political, and military law committed during the fascist Nazi occupation, adopted by Parliament in June 1946 on the proposal of the secretary of the Italian Communist Party and minister for justice, Palmiro Togliatti, lent legitimacy to their political action29. After having made their presence known through several spectacular gestures (especially stealing Mussolini’s body)30, they founded the Italian Social Movement (ISM) with a political program inspired by the “charter of Verona”, drawn up during the first conference of the Republican Fascist Party in November 1943. As Almirante had declared 10 years earlier, it was a matter of learning to “be fascists in a democracy”: “we are the sole foreigners, and it is a title of honor, but also frighteningly difficult for this democracy [...] and our courage consisted, in 1946, in joining as the ISM, that is to say as a party operating within this democracy”31.

Over the following decades, the Italian Social Movement alternated between a parliamentary political alliance with Christian Democracy (supporting the Pella, Zoli, Segni, and especially the Tambroni governments) and violent practices. It played a lead role in the autonomist revolt in Reggio Calabria (1970-1971), supported by the Ndrangheta32. Some of its activists, like those from other far-right movements (Ordine Nuovo, Avanguardia Nazionale, Europa Civiltà, the Squadre d’Azione Mussolini, Ordine Nero, and, later, the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari, Costruiamo l’Azione, and Terza Posizione) were involved in a subversive policy based on four types of initiative: the “strategy of tension”, that is, a series of terrorist attacks seeking to create a state of widespread fear—the Piazza Fontana in Milan (1969), in Gioia Tauro (1970), the police headquarters in Milan (1973), the Piazza della Loggia in Brescia (1974), on the Italicus Express train near Bologna (1974), and at Bologna station (1980); the setting up of secret and in certain cases paramilitary units; international networks (Gladio (or stay-behind) structures); the planning and threat of carrying out a coup—the Solo plan (1964), the Borghese plan (1970), the Rosa dei venti (1973), and the Edgardo Sogno plan (1974)33. As shown when the lists of the P2 masonic lodge came to light, some of these initiatives had the backing of members of the army and state, thus expressing the determination of significant sectors of the governing class to break the political and institutional framework of the Italian republic34.

Additionally, the question of the persistence of fascism is not limited to activities by the far right35. A sizeable part of the country which, in 1946, voted for the monarchy or for Guglielmo Giannini’s Uomo Qualunque movement viewed the constitution as an unwelcome imposition, and remained refractory or substantially indifferent to democracy36. As Piero Calamandrei wrote, back in 1952:

“As a political order, fascism is finished: its external structures, its papier mâché columns and fake arches of antiquity will not return, that we know. […] But the subterranean custom remains; it circulates and meanders and ferments: it nourishes other thefts, encourages other instances of arrogance, gives rise to other forms of oppression”37.

Several witnesses of the period shared his preoccupations: one only has to think of the final pages in Carlo Levi’s most famous work, Christ stopped at Eboli (published in 1945 in Italian)38, or references by the prime minister, Ferruccio Parri—a former resistance leader and leading figure in the Liberal-Socialist “Giustizia e Libertà” movement—to “the immense parafascist army, the obese underside of Italy’s history”39.

Seventeen years later, addressing the Christian Democracy conference, Aldo Moro confirmed this intuition:

“Christian Democrats have the same moral reason, the same political reason, and hence the same repulsion and resistance with which to counter any force that might subvert the free order of democratic Italy. Furthermore, our vigilance and our resistance need to be greater, precisely because the scale of this risk to our institutions is not counted in votes or parliamentary seats, and it is equally true that it does not reside solely within the ISM […]. We know very well, and have already stated that the root of fascist totalitarianism sinks deep into the social body of the nation, wherever there are privileges which do not want to yield to justice, which is progressing inexorably in our democratic society, wherever there are narrow, closed and egocentric minds, wherever freedom is feared and there is no belief in its creative, redemptive, and ultimately ordering and guaranteeing force, wherever things and the course of history are viewed superficially, wherever people rely imprudently on the illusory efficiency of resolving things through force”40.

Though it cannot be exactly described as fascist, this right has profoundly shaped the evolution of the Italian political framework41. As Francesco Biscione notes, it is not a marginal phenomenon, “an epiphenomenon or a deviation, but an integral part of the balance of powers [...], which, on several occasions, has found a way to significantly affect various phases in the political life of the country”42. Although rarely voiced, it is very present in society and exerts a strong influence over electoral, political, and power equilibria.

As the quotation from Moro shows, Christian Democracy has been extremely clever in managing this “sommerso”. But as of the 1990s, when mass parties went into crisis, this submerged stratum has turned to new political forces, or, more precisely, to new symbolic figures. First among these is Silvio Berlusconi, who on several occasions displayed his dislike of the complex procedures of parliamentary democracy (one of his favorite expressions being: “let me get on with my work”43), while at the same time taking up the theme of anti-communism and ignoring the law (tolerating illegality). Currently it is “Captain” Matteo Salvini who attracts this right with a crescendo of slogans—"Italians first”, “the party’s over for illegal immigrants”—culminating in his August 9, 2019 declaration: “I ask Italians if they wish to grant me full powers to do as I promised without being shackled”.

Even if the “sommerso” does not wish to see the fascist regime return, it has always looked indulgently, not to say benevolently on the experience. It takes up certain of the key themes in the neofascist narrative: the heroism of Italian soldiers (including their resistance at El Alamein), the polemic against antifascism, and the game of hide-and-seek with fascism. I will briefly touch on the first two aspects, drawing on the numerous historical studies available on the topic. I shall then discuss the third aspect at greater length, drawing on the Italian press of recent years.

A comic-opera dictatorship

In the post-war period, fascism was represented as more comical than tragic: “a sort of histrionic farce of collective simulation, recited for twenty years by Italians under a personal and slightly authoritarian dictatorship, until the day when it was perverted by Nazi Germany, which injected racism and anti-Semitism and led it down the path of perdition”44. According to this comfortable legend, which retroactively defascizes the country, Italians adhered to fascism more through naivety than real conviction. They thus differed from German soldiers in their humanity. Additionally, Mussolini’s regime is said to have had nothing in common with those of Hitler and Stalin45.

This vision of fascism was championed as of 1945 by qualunquista writings (embodied by journals such as Guglielmo Giannini’s L’uomo qualunque, Giovannino Guareschi and Giovanni Mosca’s Il Candido, and Leo Longanesi‘s Il Borghese), which though supporting Christian Democracy claimed to be indifferent about politics and denigrated any form of social commitment46. It was then taken up and developed by journalists such as Renato Angiolillo, Indro Montanelli, and Mario Cervi, and more recently Arrigo Petacco, Roberto Gervaso, and Antonio Spinosa, who have written many bestsellers to show how fascism was a wishy-washy sentimental regime, emphasizing that Italians were not too brutal during the war47. As Emilio Gentile observes:

“Being founded on nothing, fascism was said to have left no legacy other than the memory of an experience which had been more burlesque than tragic—though ending in tragedy—, and in which Italians participated as unknowing victims, at times falling for the charm of a histrionic Duce puffed up with pride, who they had acclaimed as a great man more through naivety and conformism than any real adherence to his ideas or his regime”48.


The project of defascizing fascism made a forceful comeback throughout the 1990s, when the National Alliance started to be perceived as legitimate. Its leader, Gianfranco Fini, had always laid claim to “the eternal, non-historicizable values” of fascism, commemorated the March on Rome, even expressing his opposition to “the principles of 1789”49. He henceforth called for his new political formation to be judged “on the basis of facts and not historical lineage”. At the same time he suggested renouncing antifascism: “I have no reason to deny that antifascism was a historically essential stage for returning to the values of democracy, in Italy, but the attempt to promote antifascism as a value is a left-wing attempt, an attempt by Togliatti”50. It was a matter of replacing the fascism/antifascist opposition with a totalitarianism/democracy opposition—and for Fini, as for De Felice, fascism was not totalitarian51. Over the following years he distanced himself from his past, visiting the Ardeatine caves and declaring during a trip to Israel that fascism had been “the absolute evil of the 20th century”52. Did this signal a real change of heart, or was it purely cosmetic? It is hard to tell53. But irrespective of the answer, and independently of his personal intentions, Fini suggested that the image of fascism be updated through several elements: punning references to racial laws (“an error [errore] that became a horror [orrore]”), pointing out the historic merits of the regime (modernizing the country, architectural innovation, social protection schemes, combating the Mafia), negating or distorting the regime’s violent and coercive aspects, and rejecting antifascism as a political value.

This new vulgate of fascism was not the sole preserve of the National Alliance. Silvio Berlusconi and his associates continually displayed their indifference, not to say hostility towards commemorations of the liberation on April 25, suggesting this date be replaced by November 4 (the Italian “victory” at Vittorio Veneto in 1918), or even April 18 (the defeat of the left-wing coalition in the 1948 national elections)—when they were not inviting people to go to the seaside rather than attend the celebrations being laid on54. They sought in turn to present an adulterated image of the regime. On September 13, 2003, in a long interview with the British magazine The Spectator, Berlusconi declared “Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile” (alluding to the banishment of opponents to isolated Mediterranean islands)55. Two years later, his party invited Italians to “say no to dictatorship” during a public event to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The list of dictators included Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden, but Mussolini was conspicuously absent56. At the same time, figures of fascism started to be celebrated, such as Rachele Mussolini, Giuseppe Bottai, Dino Grandi, Italo Balbo, Giovanni Gentile, and, incredible but true, Rodolfo Graziani, who was responsible for crimes against humanity in Libya and Ethiopia57.

The adulteration of fascism entailed two related operations. First, it was a matter of gradually presenting antifascism as the “disgrace in Italian history”58. Public attention was redirected to the victims of the resistance. The foibe massacres by Marshal Tito’s Yugoslav partisans were compared to the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews59. And more generally, the liberation movement was presented as a sort of “antidemocratic” movement, in hock to the Soviet Union, and guilty of a gigantic spate of killings (the assassination of Giovanni Gentile, the Porzûs massacre60, and reprisals in the “red triangle” or “triangle of death” near Modena in Emilia). The months following the defeat of the Nazis and the Repubblichini were evoked primarily for the summary executions and extralegal purges carried out by members of the resistance61. In short, as Giorgio Rochat observes, for the center right it was no longer a matter of criticizing the various interpretations and studies of different aspects of the resistance, but rather the resistance itself which now needed to be eliminated as a political problem62. This was the climate in which the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera, spoke in 2003 of his regret at belonging to a generation which had had to wait 50 years to be free of the official history written by the left, going on to suggest an assimilation between antifascism and communism. Additionally, this attack on antifascism was often fueled by “talk-show” historians (such as Giordano Bruno Guerri), as well as academic historians (foremost among whom were Renzo De Felice and Ernesto Galli della Loggia63).

Likewise, acts by fascists (“the defeated”) and by partisans (“the victors”) were placed on an equal footing. This idea of “reciprocity” was first put forward by Fini at the Fiuggi conference (1995):

“If it is fair to ask the Italian right to state without reticence that antifascism was a historically essential stage for the return of the democratic values that fascism had violated, it is equally fair to ask everyone, mirroring this, to acknowledge that antifascism is not a value in itself, and that it was established and promoted […] by communist countries and the Italian Communist Party to grant themselves legitimacy in the post-war period”64.

Since then, this principle of “mirroring” has prevailed. Support is declared for the project of building a new public memory capable of superseding the opposition between fascism and antifascism, and of acknowledging the equal historical and moral dignity of each party. Far from promoting mutual recognition between different diverging memories, this “shared memory” is to impose a public narrative grounded in the idea that Italians have always been the same—impetuous, generous, little given to reflection—and their political choices, irrespective of what they were, of equal merit65. In this regard, the National Alliance presented a controversial draft law in 2006 seeking to get militia members of the Salò Republic recognized as “belligerents”, just like any other military personnel involved in fighting during the Second World War. This draft law was also backed by certain members of the left. On May 9, 1996, in his speech of investiture as president of the Italian chamber of deputies, Luciano Violante, at the time a PDS deputy (Democratic Party of the Left), declared:

“I wonder whether Italy today—hence all of us—should not start thinking about the defeated of the recent past. Not because they were right, or because we ought to accept, in the name of some hazy propriety, a form of unacceptable inequality between those involved; but because we must strive to understand, while avoiding any falsifying revisionism, the reasons why thousands of young people, in particular, when all was lost, chose to side with Salò, and not with rights and freedoms”66.

Panificio Automatico Continuo, Milano

Panificio Automatico Continuo, arch. Mario Faravelli & Enrico Cardani, 1925-1926

Playing hide-and-seek with fascism

Over recent years, the League has built up ever closer ties with CasaPound and other neofascist groups (such as Stefano Del Miglio and Giacomo Pedrazzoli’s Lealtà Azione, and Gianni Alemanno’s Movimento Nazionale per la Sovranità) laying explicit claim to the legacy of the Italian Social Republic67. The alliance is based on a set of common themes: a xenophobic policy against migrants said to be guilty of invading the country, of spreading criminality, and of pursuing a plan of ethnic substitution (the famous Kalergi plan); denouncing the global financial system, often via anti-Semitic statements (it’s the fault of the moneylender George Soros!); exalting the nation presented in revanchist terms as a victim (it’s the fault of the technocrats in Brussels!); a mystifying rhetoric grounded in the idea of inverted racism (against discrimination against Italians!); defending the family “made by a mother and a father” (see the photo of the minister Lorenzo Fontana alongside pro-Nazi Luca Castellini during the march for the family at Verona in March 2019, reasserting the importance of the basic unit of society against “attacks, notably LGBT attacks, denaturing marriage and gender ideology”); defending religious identity (see the photos of Salvini kissing a crucifix, and of Salvini arriving at the latest League conference carrying a nativity scene). The escalation of verbal violence (racist and anti-Semitic insults, exultations of Mussolini and Hitler, the negation or derision of the persecution of the Jews, etc.) is at times accompanied by an escalation in physical violence (pursuing immigrants, LGBTQs, Roms, assaults on journalists, the vandalism and profanation of tombstones, etc.)68. The most severe incident occurred in Macerata on February 3, 2018 when a Northern League activist, Luca Traini, opened fire on a group of Africans, wounding six of them (five men and one woman), in order to “avenge” the murder of an 18-year-old woman, Pamela Mastropietro, for which an undocumented Nigerian had been taken in for questioning. Draped in the Italian flag, he then stopped in front of the municipal war memorial and raised his arm in a fascist salute, crying out “Viva Italia!”69.

Additionally, it has become a fashionable “sport” to defend fascism70. Let us leave to one side the neofascist demonstrations, pilgrimages to Predappio (Mussolini’s birthplace, to which 3000 or so people flocked on October 28 last), neo-Nazi Facebook profiles, tweets eulogizing the regime, fascist slogans daubed on walls (“Boia chi molla”, “Col duce sino alla morte”, etc.), racist anthems in sports stadiums, and concerts by identity rock groups (Ultima frontiera, Fantasmi del passato, Spqr, Zetazeroalfa)71. What seems to be new is the widespread and apparently banal use of fascist symbols: cakes with the face of Adolf Hitler at a teenage birthday party72, cappuccinos with a swastika73, jokes about Anna Frank74, the use of SS uniforms (near Marzabotto, the site of the largest Nazi massacre of civilians in western Europe, in which between 770 and 1830 people were killed), swastika tattoos galore75, Nazi disguises at a comic festival76, a T-shirt emblazoned “Auschwitzland”77, a field on a slope marked with a swastika78, bottles of wine bearing the portrait of Hitler and Mussolini in tourist sites79, pizzas with Nazi symbols in Rome (with the ingredients laid out to read “Dachau meravigliao”, “All You Can Hitler”, etc.), an advertisement for Mein Kampf on the site of a web design agency80, boats with photos and slogans of Benito Mussolini81, a statuette of Hitler in a nativity scene at Naples82, fascist calendars on sale in the newspaper stands in most stations, fascist songs played on the PA system at an ice rink83, stickers depicting Furio Honsell, a member of the Democratic Party, wearing the striped “uniform” of deportees to Nazi camps and bearing the inscription “Mayor of Auschwitz”84, the professor of the history of law at Sassari requesting a fascist funeral, the professor of the philosophy of law at the University of Siena praising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: “what matters is not ascertaining who the true authors of the document are, because it may well be a ‘fake’ in the technical meaning of the term, but the question: are the facts it describes true or false? For what happens in the world today is clear proof that they are true”85.

These few scattered examples show that, nowadays, in Italy, the use of fascist symbols is not the preserve of a few extremists86. Fascism is a “reference” that people from various socio-economic backgrounds draw upon for distinct purposes. Alongside those nostalgic for the regime or the early years of the fascist movement (such as Gabriele Adinolfi, an admirer of the 1919-1922 period), there are scores of people attracted in a more or less considered manner by various “bits” of fascism: racism, xenophobia, worship of the strongman leader, contempt for culture, denigration of representative democracy, and the myth of sovereignty (“Italians first”). Some justify their praise of Mussolini (and even of Hitler) on the grounds of humor, while all invoke freedom of opinion: “he just wanted to make a joke, dedramatize things, it’s what young lads do”, “it’s only a game, in jest”, “a schoolboy joke”, “a blunder by someone who works from dawn to dusk, first in the factory and then in the fields”, “a person who goes to mass every Sunday and doesn’t belong to any political group, far less a fascist, for the love of God”.

The case of Punta Canna beach in the Venetian lagoon is emblematic. On Sunday, July 9, 2017 the Repubblica newspaper revealed that Gianni Scarpa, the manager of the public baths (on state-owned land) was broadcasting over the PA system messages of the type: “badly brought up people disgust me, dirty people disgust me, democracy disgusts me. I am in favor of the [fascist] regime but, as I can’t apply it outside, I apply it at home”. Notices stated: “service for clients only, otherwise … truncheon in your mouth”, or else forbidding access to a changing room with a sign saying: “gas chambers”. A photo of a child was accompanied by the words: “Grandfather Benito, I beg you to come back so that we may have a clean and honest Italy”87. The 650 clients of the public baths are “normal” people, employees and well-off managers, likely to vote for the left or center. On being questioned by the press, they declared they were not interested in politics, and had chosen this beach because it was clean and attractive. Most of them claimed a certain tolerance: everyone is entitled to their own “beliefs”, and the manager was a pleasant man prone to wisecracks88. This state of mind was summed up by the deputy mayor of Chioggia in the following terms:

“Why waste police resources on this type of thing, instead of checking up on the squatters circulating on the beach? Some talk of apologies for fascism, but to my mind it’s a borderline question, especially as neither the tourists nor the residents, who are not all right-wing, have never complained. As far as I know, there have never been any problems with public order. We knew that the owner was a “character” with right-wing sympathies, that he was extravagant and fond of fooling around. Nothing more”89.

After the article was published, the prefect of Venice ordered that Scarpa’s license to run the beach be withdrawn. But the story did not finish there. The former manager continued to go to the baths. Last summer, with the consent of the new manager, he had fun encouraging tourists to give the fascist salute and sing Faccetta nera, the “soundtrack” to the Abyssinian campaign (1935-1936): it might seem incredible, but it was caught on video90.

Confronted with such signals, right-wing parties play hide-and-seek with fascism. They have developed a dual-pronged communication strategy, in which they deploy fascist symbols and references while at the same time denying the existence of fascism. Matteo Salvini paraphrases expressions “dear” to Mussolini: “me ne frego”, “so many enemies, so much honor”, “we will chase them on the shores”, “I want full powers”, “tiro dritto”, and so on91. He posts photos of himself in military get-up (the most famous being one where he is holding a machine gun)92. He wears Pivert clothing, a brand associated with CasaPound and very fashionable among young neofascists93. He met (and embraced) the activist Luca Lucci, sentenced for drug trafficking94. He praised the fascist period in the name of freedom of expression: “it is obvious that under Mussolini, many things were done and the pension system was introduced. Of course, racial laws and persecutions were one of the maddest things in the history of the universe. [...] May one say that swamps were trained at this period?”. He spoke from the Duce’s balcony in Forlì and tweeted the next day: “A spectacle yesterday evening! I started in the rain overlooking the main square at #Forlì! If Boldrini gets to hear about it...”95. He published an interview in book form with the publishing house Altaforte, run by a CasaPound activist, which includes in its catalogue books with titles such as Diario di uno squadrista toscano and Il cinema tedesco del terzo Reich96. For its part, the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) held a dinner (in a public restaurant) in Padua in April to celebrate the publication by the Passaggio nel Bosco publishing house of The Doctrine of Fascism, written by Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile in 1932. The guest of honor was the Duce’s great-grandson, Caio Mussolini. Faced with protests from the ANPI and the Democratic Party, the event’s organizer, Davide Mauri, declared: “I want to reassure all the organizations who have risen up against us to silence us and deprive us of our right of opinion and of free speech: this event will take place. We will not hold it in this club, but we will meet this evening against any attempts at political censorship”. The party did not back down despite these obstacles. On October 28 last it held a dinner to celebrate the anniversary of the March on Rome (attended by the mayor of Ascoli Piceno).

At the same time, Brothers of Italy and the League deploy what one might call a of rhetoric of inexistentialism. Last November, Daniela Santanchè resumed the matter in the following terms: “there is not and there has not been a problem with fascism in this nation. Italians have other problems”97. After having asserted that fascism was an extremely complex historical phenomenon, Giorgia Meloni declared: “when the PD appears on television, they talk about current affairs, when I go on television, I’m asked about racial laws, Mussolini, the Punic Wars, or the Roman Empire”98. The same line of argument is tirelessly repeated by Salvini. In 2017, after having paid a visit to the manager of the Punta Canna beach99, he declared:

“It was not a political visit, but to support a professional activity which provides work for dozens and dozens of people. I am not interested in the ideas of any given lifeguard, in any given baths. I want people to be able to do business freely in Italy, and ideas of the past not to be put on trial.”

In 2019, the message became obsessional: the liberation of Italy was merely “a derby between fascists and communists” (April 23); “there are no extremists, racists, or fascists here. Italy is divided between those who think of working and those who put the ghosts (fantasies) of the past on trial” (18 2019, meeting with Geert Wilders (VVD), Joerg Meuthen (Afd), and Marine Le Pen (RN)); “for me, the raised arm [fascist salute] and raised fist are quite simply outside time and history. The fact that there is someone who recalls the past, in my opinion, in 2019, is devoid of political meaning. That you [journalists] are able to reduce a demonstration by thousands of people with two arms and two fists does not do honor to the journalistic trade, but each does it as he sees fit” (September 9, 2019)100; “speaking about fascism in 2019 no longer makes any sense” (September 28, 2019)101; “there are no fascists in Italy. But I defend millions of Italians who are proud to be Italian, who demand that our history and our culture be respected” (November 6, 2019); “I am not a fascist, I am Italian and proud to be Italian. And in my home, you ring the bell when you come in” (November 11, 2019).

Even racists do not exist: “I throw the doors to my house wide open, but if someone comes here and starts to say, since it is November, ‘I don’t like Christmas’, ‘I don’t like the Nativity’, “I don’t like baby Jesus’, then let him go back to his village. Is that racism, is that racism?” (November 6, 2019); “I defend [Balotelli’s] right to play in peace without spectators hooting [monkey calls], but I think that Italians have other more serious problems and I prefer to look after the Ilva workers” (November 10, 2019). For the secretary of the League, only anachronistic left-wingers still employ references to the past: “fascist, Nazi, racists—when they don’t have any arguments, the left trots out this tired refrain” (Multics); “there are little fish and big fish who raise the alarm of fascism and racism, but there is no fascism or racism. We look after taxes, young workers, we make suggestions” (November 23, 2019); “I’ve had enough of racist, fascist, Nazi: I am Italian, PROUD to be Italian, and, to my mind, a country’s borders are SACRED whatever the little fish say” (November 29, on Facebook). Should a journalist press with further questions, pleonasm offers a way to avoid answering. On being exhorted by Corrado Formigli to distance himself from CasaPound and asked: “are you antifascist?”, Salvini answered, after a long blank: “talking about that belongs to the past. I study fascism and communism in history books. Period. Enough”. He then went on to say, “I am against all those who don’t respect their fellow man. The boys from CasaPound who demonstrated in Milan did not leave a single cigarette butt on the ground. Not like those from social centers who break windows and damage things everywhere”. He finally added: “I am antifascist, anticommunist, antiracist, anti-anything you want” (October 20 2014)102.

Denial sometimes involves the dissemination of false information. During a meeting on February 24, 2017 to close his electoral campaign, Salvini quoted from a letter by Pier Paolo Pasolini to Alberto Moravia:

“I wonder, dear Alberto, whether this angry antifascism sweeping the streets today at the end of the fascism is not fundamentally a weapon of distraction used by the ruling classes against students and workers to prevent dissent. Pushing the masses to fight an inexistent enemy while modern consumerism is insinuating itself into an already moribund society and making things worse.” 

It is a shame that this was fake news posted on Facebook by neofascists103.

Declarations by leaders of the League and the Brothers of Italy have received the support of the far-right organic intellectual, Marcello Veneziani, who over recent years has accused the list of having “resuscitated fascism and antifascism”. Berating the center-left mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala, he wrote:

“There are tidal waves of illegal immigrants […], there are ever more criminals going unpunished, there are drug traffickers […], there are social centers and hooligans who, in Hamburg and around the world, destroy everything and put policeman in hospital, there are pedophile and terrorist websites on the Internet, there are a thousand troubles and a thousand emergencies in our country and our towns. And this gentleman, a Bocconi graduate, who presented himself as a manager and ought to administer the most pragmatic town in Italy, comes out with this psycho-political delirium as if he were returning from the Piazzale Loreto slaughter in 1945”104.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes” (Phrase attributed to Mark Twain)

One may criticize abuses of the term “fascism”, starting with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notion of “consumption fascism”105, or Felix Guattari’s “molecular fascism”106. One may doubt the utility of the category of “eternal fascism”, and regret certain simplifications, such as the “game” invented by Michela Murgia allowing Italians to measure their own level of fascism107. One may also be dissatisfied by antifascist rhetoric and annoyed by the habit of deploying “fascist” as an indiscriminate term of abuse. Having said that, may one truly state that fascism was born in 1921 and came to an end in 1945? May one hold that doing away with the antifascist ideal is a political priority in present-day Italy? And repeat the reassuring refrain that history does not repeat itself? Of course, times are never replayed. Of course, historical conditions today differ from those of the period after the 1914-1918 war. Of course, Italy is not a totalitarian dictatorship. But the death of the fascist regime did not automatically imply the death of fascist ideology. “Ingredients” which contributed to the advent of fascism are currently re-emerging and being reworked. Above all, the forces calling for the regime to be normalized never went away, and are increasingly thriving.

From a certain point of view, the debate exceeds the phenomenon of fascism and concerns the question of anachronism. Gentile and De Bernardi propose a linear and irreversible vision of historical time, founded on the figures of the beginning and the end: historical phenomena are anchored in closed historical periods which are now over. From this perspective, Gentile insists on the fact that analogies produce falsifications concerning historical knowledge; they are part of a general trend seeking to replace scientific history with “astoriologia” (literally: a-historiology, a neologism indicating a new type of historical narrative based on imagination to the detriment of factual analysis; its relation to history is comparable to that of astrology to astronomy). De Bernardi, for his part, denounces any anachronistic approach to the past: “if history teaches us one lesson, it is that it doesn’t repeat itself: it is a set of unique and non-repeatable mental, social, political, military, cultural, and material “facts”, and the specific task of historians is not to conflate any similarities which may exist between current events and past events”. As is well known, anachronism is the bane of the historian: “the noun itself suffices as a defamatory accusation, the accusation—in sum—that one is not a historian since one wields time and times incorrectly”108. One may, however, conceive of historical time differently, in terms of imbrication, and make room for other temporal figures, such as survival, accretion, and deformation. In this respect, the question of repetition cannot be set to one side absolutely. The past remains a possibility for the future. And, like Hamlet’s father, it may return surreptitiously to the present whence it was excluded109.

Unfold notes and references
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I am grateful to Olof Bortz, Eric Michaud and Antonella Romano for their suggestions and critical remarks.

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Umberto Eco, “Ur-Fascism”, New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995.

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José Saramago, El Pais, October 14, 2009. In the same year, a group of artists, academics, and journalists (the Collettivo30: online) raised the question internationally: "what if we are living through a strange rerun of the 1920s and 1930s? What if, once again, with democracy disintegrating, Italy finds itself, in a certain way, in the avant-garde?" (L’uniforme e l’anima. Indagine sul vecchio e nuovo fascismo, Bari, Action30, 2009). On the links between Berlusconism and fascism, see too: Gianpasquale Santomassimo, La notte della democrazia italiana. Dal regime fascista al governo Berlusconi, Milan, Il Saggiatore, 2003; Paolo Flores d’Arcais, “Fascismo e berlusconismo”, Micromega, September 5,  2010.

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This expression of Antonio Gramsci is taken up in Donald Sassoon, Sintomi morbosi. Nella nostra storia di ieri i segnali della crisi di oggi, Milan, Garzanti, 2019.

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Cf. Michela Murgia, Istruzioni per diventare fascisti, Turin, Einaudi, 2018; Bernard Guetta, L’enquête hongroise (puis polonaise, italienne et autrichienne), Paris, Flammarion, 2019; Siegmund Ginzberg, Sindrome 1933, Feltrinelli, 2019; Madelaine Albright, Fascism, a Warning, New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 2018. See too the following articles: Piero Ignazi, “La voglia di fascismo che cresce grazie alle nostre debolezze”, La Repubblica, July 1, 2017; Roberto Saviano, “Fascism is back in Italy and it’s paralysing the political system”, Guardian, February 11, 2018; Andrea Camilleri: “Salvini? Sarebbe stato un meraviglioso federale di Mussolini”, Corriere Tv, March 5, 2019; Eugenio Scalfari, “Il neofascismo ama la dittatura, è per questo che ama Salvini”, La Repubblica, March 23, 2019; Luciano Canfora, “In Italia il fascismo non muore mai”, La Repubblica, March 24, 2019; “Papa Francesco: ‘Il sovranismo mi spaventa, porta alle guerre’”, La Stampa, August 9, 2019; Natalia Aspesi, “Piazza Fontana: anatomia di una strage nera”, La Repubblica, September 25, 2019; Gad Lerner, “Quel mostro nero che spaventa l’Italia e la Germania”, La Repubblica, February 20, 2020. Also listen to the broadcast “Siamo tornati fascisti ?”, La citta di radio 3: online

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Luciano Canfora, La scopa di don Abbondio, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2018; Luciano Canfora, Fermare l’odio, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2019.

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Luciano Canfora, “’Fermare l’odio’. Il pericolo del razzismo”, Libertà Sicilia, November 12, 2019.

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Robert Paxton, “Fascisme”, in Ch. Delacroix, F. Dosse, P. Garcia, N. Offenstadt (eds.), Historiographies. Concepts et débats, Paris, Gallimard, 2010, p. 1036. See also Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, New York, Knopf, 2004: fascism is not explicitly based on a worked-through philosophical system, but rather on popular feelings about master races, the unfairness of their fate, and the fairness of their predominance over inferior peoples.

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Enzo Traverso, “Spectres du fascisme. Les métamorphoses des droites radicales au XXIe siècle”, Revue du Crieur, 2015/1, 1, p. 104-121.

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Emilio Gentile, Fascismo. Storia e interpretazione, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2002.

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Emilio Gentile, Chi è fascista, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2019.

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Cf. too Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept”, The American Historical Review, vol. 84, no. 2, 1979, pp. 367–388.

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Cf. Alessandra Tarquini, “Il fascismo immaginario di Pasolini, Bobbio, Eco”, La lettura - Il Corriere della Sera, November 4, 2018. Pierluigi Battista, “La grande piazza del 94. E nacque l’idea sbagliata dell’allarme fascismo”, Il Corriere della sera, April 23,  2019; Paolo Mieli, “Cosa c’entra il fascismo ? Le evocazioni pericolose”, Il Corriere della sera, October 29, 2018.

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Alberto De Bernardi, Fascismo e antifascismo, Storia, memoria e culture politiche, Rome, Donzelli, 2018, p. 120.

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Alberto De Bernardi, Fascismo e antifascismo, Storia, memoria e culture politiche, Rome, Donzelli, 2018, p. 18-19.

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Alberto De Bernardi, Fascismo e antifascismo, Storia, memoria e culture politiche, Rome, Donzelli, 2018, p. 167.

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For more in-depth analysis of the antifascist narrative, see: Filippo Focardi, La guerra della memoria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2005.

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Filippo Focardi, La guerra della memoria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2005, p. 156-164, 186-198.

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Nicola Gallerano, “Critica e crisi del paradigma antifascista”, Problemi del socialismo, n. s., III/7, 1986, p 133. In fact the question of consent had already been raised in the 1930s by Palmiro Togliatti (Lezioni sul fascismo (1935), Rome, Editori Riuniti, 1970), who spoke of a reactionary mass regime. This was taken up and developed by Renzo De Felice in his monumental biography of Mussolini: Mussolini il Duce, Gli anni del consenso, 1929-1936, Turin, Einaudi, 1974.

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Far from calling on the previous generation to justify its consent for fascism and its collaboration in a criminal policy (as was the case in Germany), the 1968 generation in Italy identified with the class dimension in party political struggle (as captured in the slogan "Resistance is red, not Christian Democrat”).

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Cf. Sergio Luzzatto, La crisi dell’antifascismo, Turin, Einaudi, 2004, p. 50-56.

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See the interview with De Felice in Filippo Focardi, La guerra della memoria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2005, p. 252-258. On De Felice’s role in Italian public debate, cf. Gianpasquale Santomassimo, “Il ruolo di Renzo De Felice”, in E. Collotti (ed.), Fascismo e antifascismo. Rimozioni, revisioni, negazioni, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2000, p. 415-419. During the same years, criticisms of antifascism were put forward in Germany and France. Among others, see François Furet, Ernst Nolte, Fascisme et communisme, Paris, Plon, 1998; Anne Kriegel, “Sur l’antifascisme”, Commentaire, vol. 50, no. 2, 1990, p. 299-302.

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Alleanza Nazionale was founded in 1992 with the aim of uniting all forces opposed to victory by the left. Its policies included presidentialist reform, the rekindling of national pride, defending the values of life and the family, and denouncing the other political parties as mired in controversy. See: Roberto Chiarini, Destra italiana: dall’Unità d’Italia a Alleanza nazionale, Venice, Marsilio, 1995, p. 65.

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Despite these changes, the policy of the constitutional arch continued to be defended by Italian presidents (particularly Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Giorgio Napolitano, who both emphasized the patriotic nature of the resistance and reasserted the demarcation between fascists and antifascists).

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Francesco Biscione, Il sommerso della Repubblica: la democrazia italiana e la crisi dell’antifascismo, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 2003, passim.

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This was the name taken by the fascist republican regime established by Mussolini, in the wake of the July 25, 1943 coup, in the part of Italy under German occupation. Its program as set out in the "manifesto of Verona" was an attempt to return to the origins of fascism. Far from being a merely passive ally of the Nazis, the Social Republic played an active role in persecuting Jews.

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A second amnesty promulgated in 1953 extended the benefits of this law to fugitives, and released nearly all prisoners. The most famous case is that of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, who was responsible for war crimes committed in the military campaigns in Libya and Ethiopia: in 1948 he was sentenced to 19 years in prison, but only served a few months, and in 1953 was "honorary president” of the Italian Social Movement. In his memoirs, Ho difeso la patria (Milan, Garzanti, 1948), he states that he had adhered to the Italian Social Republic to defend national honor. Cf. Angelo Del Boca, “Rodolfo Graziani”, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 2002, 58: online. On the amnesties, see: Hans Woller, I conti con il fascismo, L’epurazione in Italia, 1943-1948, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997; Marcello Flores, Mimmo Franzinelli, Storia della Resistenza, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2019.

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See: Sergio Luzzatto, Il corpo del duce: un cadavere tra immaginazione, storia e memoria, Turin, Einaudi, 1998.

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Over the following years Almirante laid claim to the fascist legacy on several occasions: "fascism is here, […] not paleo-fascism but young and lasting fascism" he said in 1982. Cf. Piero Ignazi, Il polo escluso. Profilo storico del Movimento Sociale Italiano, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1989, p. 86. See too: Giuseppe Parlato, Fascisti senza Mussolini. Le origini del neofascismo in Italia, 1943-1945, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2006; Claudio Vercelli, Neofascismi, Turin, Edizioni del Capricorno, 2019. On neofascist remembrance of the past: Francesco Germinario, L’altra memoria. L’estrema destra, Salò e la Resistenza, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 1999; Francesco Germinario, Estranei alla democrazia. Negazionismo e antisemitismo nella Destra radicale italiana, BFS Edizioni, 2001.

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Cf. Fabio Cuzzola, Reggio 1970: storie e memorie della rivolta, Roma, Donzelli, 2007. Between 1969 and 1973, 95% of assaults were perpetrated by right-wing militants (Piero Ignazi, Postfascisti ? Dal Movimento sociale italaino ad Alleanza nazionale, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1994, p. 48).

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The expression "strategy of tension” was coined by The Observer, a weekly newspaper, in December 1969 in the wake of the Piazza Fontana massacre. Cf. Giorgio Galli, La crisi italiana e la destra internazionale, Milan, Mondadori, 1974, chap. 1; Mimmo Franzinelli, La sottile linea nera: neofascismo e servizi segreti da Piazza Fontana a Piazza della Loggia, Milan, Rizzoli, 2008.

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Writing on this topic, Norberto Bobbio (La strage di Piazza della Loggia, Brescia, Morcelliana, 2014, p. 56) notes: “in fact, Italy is not governed: it is sub-governed, governed ‘from below’, by a subjacent power, it is a veritable substructure supporting an unstable superstructure”. See too Leonardo Paggi, (“Violenza e democrazia nella storia della Repubblica”, Studi Storici, 1998, vol. 39, no. 4, p. 935-952), who observes: “the great bureaucratic apparatus which issued from fascism as the true actor in the political management of the country [...] continued, through its power of inertia, to depress and counter the main forms of political and democratic organization of the republic, by continually encouraging the most varied forms of illegalism” (p. 942).

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On the Uomo Qualunque movement, see: Sandro Setta, L’uomo qualunque 1944-1948, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1975; Angelo M. Imbriani, Vento del Sud. Moderati, reazionari, qualunquisti (1943-1948), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1996.

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On June 2, 1946, Italians voted in a referendum to choose the country's overall institutional form: 12,717,923 voted for a republic, while 10,719,284 voted for a monarchy. In the 1946 local elections, Giannini’s movement won about 4% of the vote in the North, but obtained between 15% and 20% in the Center and South, coming top in Palermo and Messina (with respectively 24.53% and 30.60%). Even though the movement did not share the ideological references of fascism, some of its supporters chose to vote for the ISM.

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Piero Calamandrei, “Per la storia del costume fascista”, Il Ponte, 1952, VIII/10, p. 1337-1348. After the war, historian Paolo Alatri had already published an article with the significant title “Morte apparente del fascismo” (Nuova Europa, June 17,  1945): “The people as a whole were not fascist; the dignitaries and functionaries of the fascist state were not fascists, but they were obliged to play their role in order to beseech the right to live; the ministers and top state officials were not fascist, but they had adopted this mask to ensure that the res publica could benefit from their precious technical skills or, more simply, their patriotic support; even the highest ranking members of the regime, such as Starace and the rest, were not fascist and had likewise been corrupted and tricked, but changed their minds in time; and one could almost be tempted to say that even Mussolini was not fascist for, about to face the firing squad, he begged to be allowed to speak to the Italian people, a kind and intelligent people who would have immediately understood what commonplace incidents and little uncertainties had led him to stifle freedom and engage in a war he did not seek and which was against his interests, to confirm his monstrous alliance with the Germans, enemies and invaders after September 8, to approve and even order and organize the most dreadful massacres of Italians in centuries and centuries of Italian history”.

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Carlo Levi, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, Turin, Einaudi, 1945 (English translation: Christ Stopped at Eboli, New York, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1947); cf. too Carlo Levi, L’orologio, Turin, Einaudi, 1950 (English translation: The Watch, Paris, London, Cassell, 1952).

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Ferruccio Parri, Come farla finita con il fascismo, edited by David Bidussa and Carlo Greppi, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2019, p. 53. On September 26, 1945 Ferruccio Parri declared: "now, you can see the psychological political moment. There is a rising wave of discontent against the government, against the party regime, and it is not a phenomenon which should surprise us, for it is a natural, physiological phenomenon of the Italian situation. With so much misery and so much pain and so much anguish and such a widespread state of insecurity, to which should be added the interests crushed by antifascism. There are also those who are disappointed or displaced, and adventurers; and one should consider the spirit of resentment and vengeance of those affected. And so we witness a process of reversal, in which the guilty end up judging the judges” (p. 79). Cf. Gian Enrico Rusconi, Resistenza e postfascismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1995.

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Aldo Moro, La democrazia incompiuta. Attori e questioni della politica italiana (1943-1978), Rome, Editori Riuniti, 1999, p. 117, 172. On the continuity of the apparatus of the Italian state, see Claudio Pavone, Alle origini della Repubblica. Scritti su fascismo, antifascismo e continuità dello Stato, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 1995.

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Francesco Biscione, Il sommerso della Repubblica: la democrazia italiana e la crisi dell’antifascismo, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 2003, p. 55.

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Francesco Biscione, Il sommerso della Repubblica: la democrazia italiana e la crisi dell’antifascismo, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 2003, p. 70.

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In October 1994, Berlusconi was already complaining about how slow legislative work was and about a procedure which "will make me lose all day every Wednesday answering questions”.

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Emilio Gentile, Fascismo. Storia e interpretazione, Rome-Bari, Laterza 2002.

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Cf. Angelo Del Boca, Italiani brava gente ? Un mito duro a morire, Vicenza, Neri pozza, 2005; David Bidussa, Il mito del bravo italiano. Persistenze, caratteri e vizi di un paese antico/moderno, dalle leggi razziali all’Italiano del Duemila, Milan, Il Saggiatore, 1994; Cristina Baldassini, L’ombra di Mussolini: L’Italia moderata e la memoria del fascismo (1945–1960), Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino, 2008; Filippo Focardi, Il cattivo tedesco e il bravo italiano. La rimozione delle colpe nella seconda guerra mondiale, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2013.

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Cf. Silvio Lanaro, Storia dell’Italia repubblicana. Dalla fine della guerra agli anni novanta, Saggi Marsilio, Venezia, 1992, p. 112-128; Bianca Maria Dematteis, “La banalisation du fascisme”, Passés Futurs, 2019, 5 [online]. 

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Cf. Guido Crainz, I programmi televisivi sul fascismo e la Resistenza, in Enzo Collotti (ed.), Fascismo e antifascismo. Rimozioni, revisioni, negazioni, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2000, p. 463-491.

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Emilio Gentile, “L’héritage fasciste entre mémoire et historiographie. Les origines du refoulement du totalitarisme dans l’analyse du fascisme”, Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, no. 100, 2008, p. 51-62.

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See: Piero Ignazi, Postfascisti? Dal Movimento sociale italaino ad Alleanza nazionale, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1994, p. 76-77, 87.

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See: Camera dei deputati, Atti parlamentari, XII legislatura, 20 mai 1994, p. 272. A few weeks earlier he had once again expressed his devotion to the fascist cause, declaring: "Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the century […]. There are phases during which freedom does not figure among the pre-eminent values" (cf. Alberto Statera, “II migliore resta Mussolini”, La Stampa, April 1, 1994).

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For examination of the debate about the notion of totalitarianism, see: Enzo Traverso, Le Totalitarisme. Le XXe siècle en débat, Paris, Le Seuil, 2001.

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See: Filippo Focardi, La guerra della memoria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2005, p. 70-71.

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Cf. Gianfranco Fini, Piero Ignazi, “Discutono del futuro della Destra”, Il Mulino 4, 2009.

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Cf. Pietro Scoppola, 25 aprile. Liberazione, Turin, Einaudi, 1995; Roberto Chiarini, 25 aprile. La competizione politica sulla memoria, Venice, Marsilio, 2005.

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Paolo Franchi, “Cavaliere, ripassi un po’ di storia”, Corriere della Sera, September 13, 2003. See too, “Berlusconi: Mussolini fece bene”, La Repubblica, January 28,  2013.

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Oreste Pivetta, “Dittatori, Berlusconi salva Mussolini”, L’Unità, November 8, 2005. A few months earlier the Italian parliament had voted in favor of a proposal by Forza Italia to institute a Freedom Day to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 2009, it sought to transform the April 25 Liberation Day into a Freedom Day.

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Cf. Gaia Pianigiani, “Village’s Tribute Reignites a Debate About Italy’s Fascist Past”, New York Times, August 28, 2012 [online]. 

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Pier Giorgio Zunino, L’ideologia del fascismo. Miti, credenze e valori nella stabilizzazione del fascismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1989, p. 209.

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The foibe are natural caves in the vicinity of Trieste into which the bodies of thousands of Italians were thrown after being shot by Yugoslav partisans in September 1943 and spring 1945. They have been the focus of an intense media campaign which neglected to mention the ferocious repression unleashed against the Yugoslav resistance by fascism. In 2004, a day of remembrance, "in memory of the foibe martyrs and the exodus of Istrians and inhabitants of Fiume and the Dalmatians" was established to match the day commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz.

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On February 7, 1945 communist partisans executed 17 partisans from the Action Party and the Catholic-inspired Brigata Osoppo . As noted by Giovanni De Luna (“La storia sempre nuova dei quotidiani”, in E. Collotti (ed.), Fascismo e antifascismo. Rimozioni, revisioni, negazioni, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2000, p. 447-448), the press spoke of cultural censorship and a taboo, even though the massacre had in fact been reconstituted in detail by a court ruling in Lucca (1952) and in a book by Marco Cesselli (Porzûs: due volti della Resistenza, Milan, La Pietra, 1972).

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The journalist Giampaolo Pansa played a key role in media attention to the murders committed by partisans. His Il sangue dei vinti (Milan, Sperling & Kupfer, 2003) became a bestseller, with over 450,000 copies sold. See too by the same author, I figli dell’aquila (Milan, Sperling & Kupfer, 2002), Sconosciuto 1945 (Milan, Sperling & Kupfer, 2005), and La grande bugia (Milan, Sperling & Kupfer, 2006).

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Giorgio Rochat, “La Resistenza”, in Fascismo e antifascismo cit., p. 273-292. Norberto Bobbio, for his part, expressed his bitterness concerning the equidistance between fascism and antifascism (“Democratici e no”, La Stampa, April 25, 1994, reprinted in Filippo Focardi, La guerra della memoria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2005, p. 270-272). Bobbio returns to the matter in: De Senectute, Turin, Einaudi, 1996, p. 8-9.

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See: Renzo De Felice, Rosso e nero, Pasquale Chessa (ed.), Milan, Baldini & Castoldi, 1995; Ernesto Galli della Loggia, La morte della patria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1996. In these best-sellers, these two historians took up the idea that the armistice of September 8 represented a moral defeat for the nation.

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See: Filippo Focardi, La guerra della memoria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2005, p. 285-286.

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See too Gabriele Turi, La cultura delle destre. Alla ricerca dell’egemonia culturale, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 2013, p. 22; Tommaso Baris, “Crisi del paradigma antifascista e retoriche politiche delle nuove destre tra Prima e Seconda Repubblica”, in S. Colarizi, A. Giovagnoli, P. Pombeni (eds.), Istituzioni e politica, Rome, Carocci, 2014, vol. III.

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XIII Legislatura della Repubblica italiana. Seduta del 9 maggio, continuata nella giornata del 10 maggio, in (online).

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Among the many investigations by journalists, see in particular: Paolo Berizzi, Nazi Italia. Viaggio in un paese che si è riscoperto fascista, Milan, Baldini e Castoldi, 2018; Claudio Gatti, I demoni di Salvini. I postnazisti e la Lega, Milan, Chiare Lettere, 2019. On CasaPound, see: Maddalena Gretel Cammelli, Fascistes du troisième millénaire. Un phénomène italien?, Milan-Udine, Mimesis, 2017.

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Cf. Jérôme Gautheret, “En Italie, la petite ville de Macerata frappée de sidération par l’attentat”, Le Monde, February 7, 2019. Brenton Tarrant said he had taken inspiration from this incident, as well as those perpetrated by Breivik and by Traini, for his attack on two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand.

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Cf., among others, Vanessa Roghi, “Il neofascismo non è un film”, Internazionale, December 12, 2014; Christian Raimo, “Ritratto del neofascista da giovane”, Internazionale, January 28, 2018; Wu Ming 1, “Pasolini, Salvini e il neofascismo come merce”, Internazionale, June 4, 2018; “Italie. Un calendrier Mussolini dans les kiosques, comme si de rien n’était”, Courrier international, November 2, 2018; Mateusz Mazzini “Cinquante nuances du svastika”, Tribune de Génève, September 16, 2019. On the fashion for the fascist salute cf. the satire by the comedian Maurizio Crozza: online.

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On the image of fascism in social media, cf. Francesco Filippi, Mussolini ha fatto anche cose buone. Le idiozie che continuano a circolare sul fascismo, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 2019.

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Corriere di Bologna, March 13, 2019 [online]. 

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Il Secolo XIX, February 8, 2109 [online].

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, April 16, 2018 [online].

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, July 14, 2019 [online].

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“Lucca Comics, sfilano vestiti da nazisti”, La Repubblica, November 3, 2019 [online].

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, November 15, 2018 [online].

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Repubblica, pages de Turin, 4 juin 2019.

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, September 12, 2019 [online].

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, August 29, 2019 [online].

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, August 9, 2019 [online]. 

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Corriere del Mezzogiorno, December 11, 2018 [online]. 

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Osservatorio democratico sulle nuove destre, February 23, 2019 [online].

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Osservatorio dell’antisemitismo, March 15, 2018 [online].

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The same argument was put forward by Monsignor Ernest Jouin, who was responsible for publishing the first edition of the fake: “it does not matter whether the Protocols are authentic: it is enough that they are true; things that are seen do not require proof, the veracity of the Protocols dispenses us of any argument relating to their authenticity, for it is the irrefutable witness of it”: quoted in Pierre Pierrard, Juifs et catholiques français, Paris, Fayard 1970, p. 243.

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On the fashion for the fascist salute cf. the satire by the comedian Maurizio Crozza: online.

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Paolo Berizzi, “La spiaggia fascista di Chioggia. Qui a casa mia vige il regime”, La Repubblica, July 9, 2017 [online]. 

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Paolo Berizzi, “Il duce balneare a Beppe”, La Repubblica, July 11, 2017 [online]. 

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Eleonora Biral, “Spiaggia fascista di Sotto. Ecco i video di ferragosto”, Corriere del Veneto, August 20, 2019 [online]. 

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“‘Genty’ racconta in radio la sua gioventù fascista”, Corriere del Veneto, November 8,  2019: Giancarlo Gentilini, a League activist and former mayor of Treviso, who has never hidden his sympathies for the regime (see the photo of him posing with a Gerarca fascist hat: online), spoke on Radio Cafè. The journalist asked him if the Duce would have liked Salvini, to which he answered: “Salvini has a bit of dictatorship in his DNA and when he says ‘vote for me, I want full powers and I don't need anybody’ it reminds me of the period in my youth (the ventennio)” [online].

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“Salvini: ‘Sulla foto con mitra polemiche inutili’”, Ansa, April 21, 2019 [online]. 

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See the ritual clothing of Salvini in the video of the “pact” between the League and CasaPound at the Brancaccio theater in Rome, in May 2015: online. One Pivert advertisement shows a young man in the setting of Foro italico, a complex which used to be called Foro Mussolini. See too: “Pivert, la marque fasciste de Casa Pound”, La Horde, December 15, 2017 [online]; “Salvini allo stadio con il giubbotto che piace ai fascisti del terzo millennio di CasaPound”, Huffington Post, 10, 2018 [online]. 

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“Milano, il ‘tesoro’ del capo ultrà ‘elettricista’: sequestrati case, soldi, un locale e un’Audi Q5”, Milano Today, June 26, 2019 [online].

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“Forlì, Salvini parla dallo stesso balcone di Mussolini. E scoppia la polemica”, La Repubblica, May 4, 2019 [online].

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The owner of the publishing house, Francesco Polacchi, declared that it had been founded to voice “a common sentiment which has disappeared from media coverage”.

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Declaration by Daniela Santanché on the “Piazza Pulita” TV program, La 7, November 29, 2019.

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“Meloni prende le distanze dal nazismo. E dal Fascismo ? ‘E’ un fenomeno complesso’”, The Globalist, November 29, 2019 [online].

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“Dalla trebbiatrice alla ruspa: la demagogia fascio-populista è la stessa”, The Globalist, May 1, 2018 [online]. 

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“Salvini: ‘Saluti romani alla manifestazione ? Fascismo e comunismo sono fuori dal tempo’”, Open, September 10, 2019 [online]. 

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“Salvini a Berlusconi: ‘Parlare di fascismo non ha senso’”, Adnkronos, September 28, 2019 [online].

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“‘Lei è antifascista ?’ E Salvini non risponde”, La7: online.

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Wu Ming 1, “Pasolini, Salvini e il neofascismo come merce”, Internazionale, June 4, 2018 [online].

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Marcello Veneziani, “Ossessionati dal Duce: l’Italia è nei guai. Sala, Boldrini e gli altri insistono coi bavagli ‘antifascisti’”, Il Tempo, July 9, 2017.

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Pier Paolo Pasolini, “L’Italia sta marcendo”, Vie Nuove, September 6, 1962, 36; Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Gli italiani non sono più quelli”, Corriere della Sera, June 10, 1974; Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Intervista a cura di Massimo Fini”, L’Europeo, December 26, 1974.

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Félix Guattari, La Révolution moléculaire, Paris, Union générale d’éditions, 1980.

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Michela Murgia, Istruzioni per diventare fascisti, Turin, Einaudi, 2018.

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Nicole Loraux, “Éloge de l’anachronisme en histoire”, Le genre humain, 1993, p. 23.

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This is why Nicole Loraux advocates a measured use of anachronism.