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How Convincing Is Ginsborg’s Analysis Of The Reasons For Mussolini’s Dismissal And Imprisonment In July 1943?

A commentary on the self-inflicted nature of the regime`s collapse

Date : 30/08/2017


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Uploaded by : John
Uploaded on : 30/08/2017
Subject : History

How convincing is Ginsborg s analysis of the reasons for Mussolini s dismissal and imprisonment in July 1943?

The King knew he had to act to prevent his dynasty being damned in the eyes of the Allies and swept away by pressure from below

[Ginsborg, P. A History of Contemporary Italy, 1990 p11].

The collapse of Mussolini s empire by 1943 was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fascism finished in war as it had begun, and fell to the very reason for its existence. Ultimately, conflict proved to be the nemesis of an expended and apathetic Italian society in the years leading up to the divorce of the Fascist-monarchic diarchy. Through Italy s war, the political and emotional bonds tying the King to il Duce began to disintegrate, along with the complex fa ade of the Fascist state. The invasion of Sicily in July 1943 instilled in the King a sense of impotent desperation for the first time in its history, the concept of the untouchable Italian dynasty was being challenged both internally and from the outside world. Clearly, the King s conversion to anti-Fascism by September was motivated by several momentous processes. War led to loss of support for the Fascists and an unhealthy dependence on Germany, the resolution of which was made impossible by pre-war failures to make Italy totalitarian. From the perspective of the Allies, the credibility of the Italian monarchy could only be maintained by the removal of Fascism and its remaining disciples. Most probably, as the connection between the throne and all Axis obligations, Mussolini had to be removed if the Italian people and the invaders were to tolerate the existence of the monarchy in the post-war establishment.

The emphasis Ginsborg places on subdued pressure from below focuses on the translation of the economic into the political, and arguably the King s decision was triggered by the realities on the ground. Popular discontent in the Italian State was at its most potent during the war years. The failures of the PNF to establish an autarkic state were made manifest in the collapse of its welfare structures, and inflated food pricing mirrored a fall in real wages and living standards. Food shortages began as early as December 1940 and the general introduction of rationing almost half a year later reflected a lack of foresight and mobility on the part of the State mechanisms. The effects of anti-State aggression, both from military opposition and from the aggrieved Italians themselves, were felt most prominently in the industrial capitals of the north, where Allied raids destroyed 25,000 homes in Turin. In the first strikes for more than twenty years, 100,000 Italians took to the streets in March 1943, demanding an improvement in living conditions. In all likelihood, the King was influenced by this turn of events because he remembered the Biennio Rosso, and his resulting fear for his political survival. However, unlike in 1922, the new wave of strikes was not Socialist. The King s dynasty was never going to be damned by a limited populist reaction to a collapse in the wartime economy because the Italian people were a largely apolitical force economic climates dictated the rise and fall of Italian political fashions. From Abyssinia in 1935 to Spain in 1936, and the signing of the Steel Pact in 1939, the economic turmoil of war had demolished any existing belief in the Fascist cause. Ginsborg represents the Italian people as a far more unified and conscious element than they most likely were: Morgan s assessment that the people ceased to believe in what the regime told them Italy was fighting for, and against (2007: 71) seems a more appropriate interpretation of the limitations of popular protest at the time. The 1926 ban on strikes held its own against a growing undercurrent of PSI and PCI activity, as did the Palazzo Vidoni Pact of 1925 in limiting the potency of the trade unionists. In reality, the King encountered modest political protest from below working class organized initiatives were few and far between, and any dissent was always on economic grounds.

Beyond the horizons of national unrest, the King nervously anticipated the influence that the impending Allied invasion would have on mid-term Italian political developments. The prospect of a future American-style democracy in Italy, made altogether more likely by Mussolini s abject refusals to surrender to the Allies and the King s alleged commitment to the Axis powers, frightened the monarchists. The dismissal of Mussolini would signify the termination of Axis relations, bridging the gap between King and countrymen and more significantly, between Italy and the Allies. The conservative elites could use Mussolini s departure not only to curry favour with the Allies, but also to appease the expanding industrial classes, the most vocal of the protest groups. Morgan s argument, that for the elites and indeed Vittorio Emmanuele, the only conceivable way out of the Axis and the conflict was the removal of Mussolini as Head of both Government and the armed forces (2004: 222) is convincing. After all, Allied demands for unconditional surrender held no bearing for stubborn hard-line Fascists such as Farinacci and Scorza. By forcing his political authority, the King would resolve the constitutional inertia of old, asserting loyalty to the Allies and rejecting former Fascist allegiances. The dismissal of Mussolini would invalidate the Axis alliance, since the Steel Pact, according to its own preamble, was not an alliance between states but between two regimes and two revolutions . The King knew that failure to rid Italy of its Fascist association could pass his treasured dynasty into damnation. Fascism had failed as a political experiment, and the King no longer needed Mussolini for his monarchy to survive.

The role of the Allies and popular unrest in unseating Mussolini should not be underestimated. Although Ginsborg s analysis justifies a trigger cause for the King s decision, it is not conclusive because it depends on an explanation for the pressure from below and the Allied invasion, an explanation largely governed by the exhaustive impacts of almost a decade of war on the domestic economy. At the centre of both the Allied invasion and the imminent pressure from below was Mussolini s war: if the war had been a success, both economically and militarily, then Vittorio Emmanuele would not have dismissed Mussolini, at least in the mid-term, because he had trusted his dictator for twenty years, and the people had trusted the King. Furthermore, surrendering to the Allies was no guarantee of a monarchic upheaval. The American occupation of Japan in 1945 did not determine the end of Hirohito s emperorship, despite his collusion with the Axis empires. Similarly, Ginsborg has perhaps overemphasized the danger facing the Italian monarchy in 1943, as there remains the possibility that the King would have remained a feature of Italian politics after the Axis collapse. This suggests that other factors besides the King s involvement with the Axis powers contributed to his eventual fall from power.

Beyond the King s personal fantasy of ending the Axis connection, numerous events conspired against il Duce. His descent from the political paradise that was his world for so long was a tale of corruption and betrayal. Combined with his humble dependence on the sister revolution , an absence of genuine support for the regime proved fatal. And above all, he had failed to make Italy totalitarian, or a nation of loyal Fascists. As Clark contends, at the time of Mussolini s first fall, hardly a Fascist stirred (1996: 299): the only surviving Fascist institutions were apolitical, the continuation of the OND being a prime indicator of a politically indifferent people. Fascism had now become a state of mind its physical realities laid bare, it existed as a concept and only in the minds of those who truly believed. The irreconcilable gap between aspiration and reality (Morgan, 2004: 221) was opened up by the war, and for the common Italian this translated into a fervent political apathy. By 1943, il Duce had unwillingly and unknowingly justified, in the eyes of the establishment, his fall from power.

In the end, it was to be the ex-ministers and indignant Fascist leaders (Whittam, 1995: 129) who would threaten il Duce s authority. From 1941 onwards, Mussolini s incoherent and untimely changing of the guards only brought about a disintegration of trust among the leading Fascists and of PNF networking. The dismissal of Ciano to the air force and of Bottai and Grandi to Albania in January 1941 strained relations in government. Unnecessarily, Mussolini s appointment of the inexperienced Vidussoni as Party Secretary in December 1941 completed the alienation from himself of his closest followers (Bosworth, 2002: 384). Mussolini s calculated move to humiliate the less favourable PNF leaders in his circle of supposed allies was a public devaluation of their efforts in the war, and backfired nastily. His followers soon became his rivals. After months of preparation, the Fascist Grand Council meeting was an opportunity for the unconvinced Fascist elites to overthrow their leader by constitutional means (Clark, 1996: 297). Significantly, the scheming traitors of the Fascist regime now had fresh excuses for the King to act. The fall of Sicily, the bombings on Rome and economic breakdown eventually brought about an attempt to reduce the role of Mussolini in Italian politics. Domestically, support for the Fascist Party, already in decline, collapsed in the wake of Allied aerial bombardment, food shortages and the inflation of food prices (Ginsborg, 1990: 11). The King, tactically influenced by the dealings of the Grandi group , knew that he could not support a regime that was becoming increasingly vulnerable to both internal and external threats. So the King dismissed Mussolini, not just to retain his popular appeal among elites and workers alike, but also to act in the nation s interest and rid the Italian people of their unworthy tyrant.

Throughout his time as dictator, Mussolini s most inexcusable showcase, in the eyes of the King, was the flamboyant decision to enter the war alongside the Nazis. The premise of Fascism was the waging of a successful war (Morgan, 2007: 71), and thus Fascism collapsed along with the war effort. The regime faced desertion from its own people largely because of its failure to defend them against the chronic godlessness of Allied bombing. This represented the collapse of the public into the private (Morgan, 2007: 84), a violent transition from collective nationalism to survivalist individualism. With the shift in mentality, the Italian people entered into a state of political paralysis at crisis point, indifferent to the Italian political scene, a demoralized people did not act (Morgan, 2007: 84). Clearly, Italian Nationalism did not live up to its mantra and Mussolini s childish proclamations that Italy must either conquer or fall at the side of Germany (Wiskemann, 1969: 84) would never convince the uncertain King nor his people. For the Fascist Party and the monarchy, the most hated man in Italy could no longer be trusted with managing the war, which had destabilized Italian society to the extent that popular discontent was inevitable in the receding wartime economic climate. The Allied bombing of the Eternal City in July 1943 caused the destruction of a Basilica and the flight of 150,000 Italians from their capital (Bosworth, 2002: 400). Rome had fallen once more. The landing of the Allies on Fascist territory in 1943 turned the military war into an emotional one, and for many Italians, Mussolini embodied a broken national psyche.

Thus, the events of 1943 exposed nominal support for the regime as superficial, and beyond the propaganda victories of the regime, the irreparable catastrophe of Mussolini s Fascist dictatorship was that it was never truly Fascist. The dismissal of il Duce was in the end determined by those enclaves which he had failed in twenty years to penetrate and control (Wiskemann, 1969: 83), such as the Court, the Army, the Civil Service and the Police: his claim to act as Head of Government as of 1928 was ambiguous, and respected the King s political authority. Mussolini fell, unlike Hitler, because of a Fascism that melts like snow in the sun and his inability to bring about a totalitarian state proved fatal, punished to full effect by the realities of the war. Ideologically, the Fascist constitutional arrangements of the 1920s were incomplete, and the constancy of the monarch in the background of Italian politics was to be il Duce s Achilles heel. The 1929 Concordat and the anti-Fascist concessions he was willing to accept is further evidence of his loss of support from the elites, and of his own confused state of mind. If Italy were definitively Fascist, the King would never have been allowed to act on instinct Mussolini should have compromised both Church and State long before the war was allowed to take its course of action. Mussolini was dismissed because he had never resolved the pre-existing mechanisms of a Liberal Italy that thrived on the dominance of the royalists.

The King s decision was evolutionary, a response to the explosive political atmospheres consuming wartime Italy. Motivated by political survival, and enabled by Mussolini s weak Fascism, the King had to act to ensure the future of the people s monarchy. As the only political constant in Italy for over forty years, Vittorio Emmanuele III understood very well the implications of his reasoning. He valued Mussolini above all as a friend, but in his forty-three years as King, he had learned to be skeptical of politicians (Clark, 1996: 296). He could act because he had the army, and the army could act because it had not been fascistized: led by Ambrosio, the armed forces prepared secret plans for Mussolini s arrest. The war single-handedly turned the state against Fascism, and Fascism turned on Mussolini. The reforms he enacted during his regime served the King above all others his unwavering loyalty to the King was the device for his downfall. When the paths of King and dictator finally clashed in the summer of 1943, it was to be Mussolini who fell, because his support base was non-existent, the war had exacted its revenge through the ruling elites and, most significantly, Italy was never a committed ally to the regime. While the King s act was triggered by short-term events, his intentions avidly respected the enduring continuation of his dynasty. But the motions for Mussolini s downfall were stabilized long before 1943. The King was only the last man to betray the myth of il Duce Mussolini was the first.


Bosworth, R.J.B. Mussolini

Clark, M. Modern Italy, 1871-1995

Ginsborg, P. History of Contemporary Italy

Mack Smith, D. Mussolini

Morgan, P. Italian Fascism

Morgan, P. The Fall of Mussolini

Whittam, J. Italian Fascism

Fascism in Italy

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