Italian resistance to “Everyday Mussolinism”

The unification of Italy, or lack thereof consistently occupies a central space in the academic dialogue around Fascism.  R.J.B Bosworth in “Everyday Mussolinism” through archival sources created a picture of the complexities and contradictions of life under fascism in Italy.  One aspect of “Everday Mussolinism,” the prevalence of the client-patron relationship emphasized the difference between the ideology presented by Mussolini’s regime and the reality of life for the Italian public.  Moreover, the system undermined the push towards unification and encouraged loyalty to provincial, not national, state power.

The patron client system, based in ancient Rome, created a mechanism that subverted the new Man ideology proposed by Fascism and relied on more traditional terms of favor granting and nepotism. ((R.J.B. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism,” Contemporary European History 14, no. 1 (February 2005): 29))  The raccomandazione system created small, localized bases of power.  The establishment and perpetuation of these small bases of power made Italians rely on the whims and favors of their local padrone.  Regionalism intensified and in Bosworth’s own words the local patron “might have been rehearsing to play the part of the local Godfather,” utilizing crime and violence to ensure his continued power. ((Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism,” 33))  In many ways the raccomandazione system served as the antithesis to the goal Fascist goal of unification and progress in Italy. These small bases of bases further fragmented Italy, ambitious people relied on the favor of their local leader not on the purported merit system of the Fascist regime.

The continued reliance on a traditional system of nepotism instead of the new state run merit system provides just one example of the everyday Italian resistance to Fascism.  The reliance on traditional and local customs begs the question: Why did the Italian population resist the ideology of the Fascist state?  Furthermore, how does this resistance narrative change when compared to Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany?



While Fascist Italy under Mussolini sought to control its people and implement a new united world of ideas and ways of life in Italy, it did not succeed. Bosworth’s article, “Everyday Mussolinism: Friends, Family, Locality and Violence in Fascist Italy” demonstrated the disunity and corruption under Fascist rule.1 Bosworth cited numerous examples of Fascist leaders who corrupted the system. They reverted to the well known political practices. They appeared almost like American gangsters from the same era. Most of the men who were sent to exile used violence, threats, and terror to control their regions and gain desired power.
There was an interesting parallel in Fascist Italy to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. In the opening story, a group of men were reported singing a communist song while in a drunken state.2 As in Nazi Germany, there was a fear of communism and those who held communist beliefs. Also, as in both other regimes, citizens denounced one another for undesired behavior. Yet, did this protect Italians from themselves being denounced, as it did initially in the Soviet Union? Or did it backfire as during the Great Terror?
Another parallel to the Soviet Union and Germany was the punishment of those deemed unproductive, that drained the economy. The drunken communist was denounced as lazy and an alcoholic.3 This added to peoples dislike for him, and he was sentenced to a common punishment, exile. Although most leading Fascist officials who were sentenced to long terms of exile had the sentences overturned after just a few months. Was this due to other Fascists condoning their behavior?

1. R.J.B. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism: Friends, Family, Locality and Violence in Fascist Italy”, Contemporary European History, 14 (2005) 23-43.
2. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism”, 23-24.
3. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism”, 24.

Mussolini: Rome Revived or Rome Reviled?

Is a politician’s image imposed externally, by admirers and critics located domestically as well as abroad, examining the politician within his respective surrounding context and time period? [Bottom-up] Or, on the other hand, does a ruler paint his own political picture, a self-created phenomenon, descending internally from the ruler himself? [Top-down] This is the question that R. J. B. Bosworth examines in a chapter of his 1998 publication, “Mussolini the Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?”. Truly, as Bosworth illuminates based on multiple academic’s opinions of Benito Mussolini during and after his reign of power, a politician’s image is both a combination of self-determining propaganda and external popular evaluation.

Mussolini ruled as a charismatic leader, relying upon his positive public image to reinforce his extremist Fascist party ideology and state. While the Duce’s dictatorship and personality paled in comparison to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia (hence the Dictator Minor label), all three rulers shared in common a tendency toward the ‘Great Man’ approach. This approach to history evaluates a leader based on his heroism as the determining force of his historical impact. As Bosworth asserts, normally this approach to analyzing history is “well out of favor” but “to some extent, however, the history of Fascism and, more generally, that of twentieth-century European politics, is an exception to that rule.” ((B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism, London: Arnold, 1998, 74. 59 ))

Bosworth examines how over the course of Mussolini’s dictatorship from 1922 – 1943, the effective influence of Mussolini’s fascist rule lost power parallel to the decline of what Emilio Gentile calls, ‘the imagined Mussolini’. Passerini accepts Gentile’s view “that Fascism brought mythical thought to power.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 61. )) Other historians, throughout Bosworth’s article, refer to this grandiose conception of Mussolini as ‘the myth of Mussolini.’ When Mussolini rose to power, he did so under the pretense of embodying the values of the Italian public, as a “medium of a mass age.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 62. )) Public reverence for the heroic dictator reached levels of deep religious awe; Mussolini’s call for a New, collectivist, Italy resonated deep in the Risorgimento national spirit. Italy was traditionally a diverse and separated country, even after the Italian Unification of the 19th century  – Could Mussolini finally be the leader destined to bring together the Italian people into a united nation? Mussolini capitalized on the declining pre-modern Catholic papal influence to replace with a modern religious appreciation of the secular state. But after 1925, when Mussolini decided against ruling by the Italian Constitution and created his own pseudo-legal totalitarian state, public adoration turned to public crucifixion.

Especially when Mussolini – always an an advocate of aggression rejecting the doctrine of pacifism – joined the WWII offensive in June 1940, with a false consolation to the Italian masses that it would be a short-lived dispute, public opinion of him really fell out of favor when increasing global military conflict created a sense of betrayal within the Italian people. Bosworth extols this concept, “Figures blessed or afflicted by charisma may, of course, be hated as well as loved. Prayers to the good Mussolini were matched by anathemas to the evil one.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 65 )) While the Duce may have been a master propagandist in his own right, his pervasive slogan, ‘Mussolini is always right’ will go down in history as an ironic catchphrase, as his resonant historical image, in the words of Bosworth, is as war-time Europe’s “failed dictator.” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 59 ))

Based on your understanding of each of the dictator’s cult of personality and their respective states (Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, Stalin’s Communist Russia, and Hitler’s Nazi Germany), do you believe that Bosworth’s concluding assessment of Mussolini’s “image of a failed dictator, at least in contrast with Hitler and Stalin” (( Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce”, 59 )) is an accurate evaluation?

Mussolini: Master Propagandist or Savior of Italy?

Mussolini ha sempre ragione, loosely translated to Mussolini is always right, in many ways perfectly embodies the complicated identity of the Italian fascist dictator. ((B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” In The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism ed. by Bosworth (London: Arnold, 1998), 64.))  As B.J.B Bosworth explored the various biographies put forth about Mussolini in “Mussolini The Duce: Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” several key themes emerged in his analysis.  The local and international idolization of Mussolini coupled with the external pressure of several wars partially explained the downfall of the Italian Fascist regime and Italy after the Second World War.

Mussolini’s image as a capable stalwart symbol of Italian potential gained much of the initial support for the Fascist party.  By 1923 and the official takeover of the regime, Mussolini attained an almost godlike and Messianic position in mass politics. ((Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 65.))  The main problem with placing Mussolini on a pedestal came when he could not live up to the heroic potential he promised.  While throughout the 1920s Italy became a great European power, with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, once more the country lost its prestige.  Moreover, the almost immediate disaster in Greece following entry in WWII obliterated the superman image of Mussolini.  This turn away from Mussolini as a savior, or even a shining example of an inferior race (in Trevelyan and Coote’s perspective), propelled biographies from the mid-1930s towards labeling him a consummate actor caught up in the role of a godlike dictator.  The fall in public opinion on Mussolini signaled the end of popular support for the Fascist state.  Bosworth stipulated that Mussolini as a fake superman lasted in popular and scholarly biographies through the 1980s. ((Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce,” 81.))

The broad change in opinion over the true identity of Mussolini brings up two important questions.  Can the blame for Italy’s failure to truly dominate as a great power during and after World War Two be placed, even partially, on Mussolini’s shoulders?

Mussolini: What is he?

“Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” by B.J.B Bosworth discussed the different views of Mussolini. Mussolini was fascist Italy. There cannot be one without the other. He was imbued with mythical even biblical status by his followers. He was a hero to Italians across the globe, he offset the negative Italian stereotype many faced. Each dictatorial nation created a myth of the leader, and Italy was no different. Mussolini was initially welcomes and praised as fascism led Italy out of the Great Depression.

To fully understand Mussolini and fascist Italy one must also look at the circumstances of the time. At first Mussolini was viewed as a pioneer in Europe, he controlled a nation for more than two decades. He modernized Italy and expanded it’s border in an attempt to recapture it’s roman prestige. Fascism allowed Italy to overcome the Great Depression with greater ease than other nations.  Mussolini was initially looked upon with admiration and respect before the Nazis rose to power in Germany. With the emergence of the Nazi party Italy was downgraded to the lowest of the “great European powers”. As Bosworth stated, Mussolini became a “dictator minor”, he did not command the same respect and power that Hitler and Stalin did.1

Mussolini in 1934 was more than willing to fight against the union of Austria and Germany. He was an opponent of the Nazis belief of the existence of a true Aryan.2 However, when Italy entered WWII six years later, the people felt betrayed by their leader.3 Mussolini created a nation in a period of peace that fell short during the war.

According to Emil Ludwig, in the 1930s, Mussolini was the “Nietzschean superman”, whose movement helped Italy to prosper4. His fascist nation created “new forms, new myths, and new rites” for the Italian people. This is in opposition to many reviews of Mussolini that portray him as a propagandist, a man who failed as a leader. There are many conflicting views, and as Bosworth stated in his conclusion, more research needs to be conducted to make a full “appraisal” of Mussolini.5 There is still much unknown as to his decision making role.

1. B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism, London: Arnold, 1998, 74.

2. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 73-74.

3. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 67.

4. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 73.

5. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 81.