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How Fascism Lingered in Post-War Italy

Two dates symbolising radical change and a new, long-awaited life are enshrined in the memory of Italian citizens: July 25th and September 8th, 1943. On the former, a no-confidence vote was passed at the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo against Mussolini, forcing a change in government with Marshal Pietro Badoglio taking the reins of the Italian Kingdom; on the latter, Badoglio announced via radio that an armistice with the Allied forces had been signed, and that any act of hostility against the Anglo-American forces had to cease.

Nevertheless, for the following two years, in the North the battle between the anti-fascist resistance and the Nazi occupiers continued to rage on. Even without Mussolini, fascism was still well and alive, especially in the South. Fascism, in the words of PCI (Italian Communist Party) leader Palmiro Togliatti, was far ‘too serious a thing […] to think you could rid yourself of it with a wave of your hand’ (cited in Crainz, 2009: 29). This article will demonstrate three types of continuity that characterised post-War Italy: the legal-bureaucratic apparatus, the cultural mindset, and the organisation of the so-called ‘State parties’.

Figure 1: The front page of Italy's biggest newspaper on September 8th, 1943, relaying the news of the armistice and the end of hostilities with the Anglo-Americans [Photo]. Wikipedia.

Legal and bureaucratic continuity

The continuity in the legal and bureaucratic system was undoubtedly the most overt of the three. Yet, at the same time, it was also the most resistant to change. This line of continuity was both physical and legal. It was physical in that the same people who had climbed the ladder of the judiciary and bureaucracy during the fascist regime kept their posts, even after the advent of the Republic. The absence of a generational change could be boiled down to the intersectionality between the political sphere of the State and its administrative system on the one hand, and the inefficacy of the epuration laws on the other. Such continuity was also legal due to the persistence of sets of rules and laws from the fascist period that prevented the new ruling elite from demarcating a clear boundary with the past.

In the summer of 1944, the High Commissioner for Sanctions against Fascism Carlo Sforza claimed that if every person who worked at the Ministry of Interior and who had had compromising relations with the previous regime were to be sacked, then the Ministry would go missing over two-thirds of its own employees. At the same time, these very same fascist-era bureaucrats and jurists were merely seeking a reassuring and secluded world where they could find patronage and security without any further political aspiration (Melis, 2001).

It is no wonder then that the various decrees aimed at removing fascists from the new civil services, such as Decree No. 159 of the Bonomi government, had very little effect. In fact, as Ponzani (2011: 122) notes, ‘the punishment of fascists was halted thanks to an amnesty, as the post-war State expressed its desire to return to conditions of “normalcy”.’ The accusations moved by the socialists and the communists against the tendency of the government to eschew exemplary punishments for fascist old-timers were not unreasonable. According to them, it was a missed opportunity for ‘the entire country to collectively examine its conscience in relation to the causes that had led to fascism’s success’ (Tarchi, 2010: 388). In other words: a failed attempt at discontinuity.