The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Alliance
The suggestion that the Fascism of Benito Mussolini died on April 28th 1945 is typical of societies which advocate the massification of politics without the insight required to make that politics functional. It’s a simple proposition designed to delegitimize opposition to the current order and reinforce people’s view of history as being linear in nature with each era being successively more progressive and improving upon the one that came before it. Ideas viewed as being rooted in the past would then be dead on arrival as they’d be unable to fit into the linear construct. Whether through blindness or willful ignorance people choose to ignore the fact that liberal democracy was not a novel creation to the extent that’s its substance was not created contemporaneously with the governments that adopted it. The papers of America’s founders lay out the sources for their ideas as being rooted in Ancient Greek, and Roman thought while pilfering enlightenment writers such as Locke and Montesquieu. In fact when looking at the sources of Fascist thought, it upholds itself to this criticism much more effectively than any of its opponents. With the exception of Vico Giambattista Fascist threads are rooted in the 19th and early 20th centuries, being shortly before the establishment of the ideology. Even an effective articulation of our argument to the above accusation would not give us a seat at the table, because there’s another reason Fascism is viewed as a dead end ideology and that’s because of its alliance with another dead end ideology, National Socialism.
A point which seems obvious but needs to be cleared up is that when it comes to foreign affairs alliances don’t automatically equate to ideological affinity. If the foregoing were true then the United States and Great Britain would have been every bit as Communist as the Soviet Union. In the realm of foreign policy pragmatism holds much more sway than ideology. Power is viewed as a zero sum game with the accumulation of natural resources and wealth at another’s expense being the rule. Mussolini was no exception to this rule; while he to an extent understood the ramifications of the ideology he created he could never grasp it in its entirety and in the realm of foreign affairs allowed old world biases to hold sway over his thoughts. This way of thinking would eventually lead to the alliance with the Nazis and lead to the destruction of Fascism not only in Italy but around the world.
There’s always been a certain air of disingenuousness when it comes to evaluating Italy’s role in the Second World War. Very little is often mentioned in regards to Fascist Italy’s actual performance relative to their industrial and economic capacity, instead relegating their history to nothing more than a few irrelevant lines in whatever book the author is writing at the time. Much more prominence has been given to the German contribution, and while to an extent there is some justification for this, those who’d otherwise have been predisposed ideologically to support Fascism have instead made a fetish out of the Wehrmacht/S.S. and wholeheartedly as a consequence have embraced the ideology of National Socialism as being the rational outcome of Mussolini’s thought.
“Given the fascination with Hitler, Nazi regalia, martial arts and samurai swords, the continuing success of badly-done ‘docudramas’ on prime-time television, and the plethora of books dealing with Nazism and the Rising Sun on supermarket book racks, it would seem that not a few of us would like to forsake the humdrum of democracy for the sleek uniform of the SS, or at least trade our places in the car pool for a seat in a spitfire during the Battle of Britain. It is a safe bet, though, that only a peculiar few nurse the desire to pilot a Macchi 202 or join the Ariete Division since for most readers of English, the former could be a brand of pasta and the latter a rock group.”James Sadkovich, Journal of Contemporary History (Jan 1989)
The blindness afflicting the modern mind doesn’t relegate itself to people holding conventional political ideas but also affects those who claim to be Fascists. In the desire to give meaning to their own beliefs they’ve attempted to make the Axis into a semi-divine lost cause meant to rise again to make everything right in the world. The only problem is that this interpretation couldn’t be any further from the truth and more than anything else is encouraging an association which more than anything else has prevented Fascism from regaining respectability; while the Allies had their fair share of squabbles, they were nothing compared to the problems suffered by the Axis.
The preeminent historian of Italian Fascism, James Gregor has referred to Mussolini’s rapprochement with National Socialism as causing a crisis within the system. To understand what he meant by this, it’s imperative to realize that at its core Fascism was/is a belief that given the proper collective environment individuals through the power of will become something much greater than the atom envisioned by liberal democracy.
Central to this doctrine is the view of the State as providing the road from which people go down to become spiritually fused into a nation. Regardless of the racial differences existing amongst the populace a State structure emphasizing duty, discipline and faith, will produce a unity which a nation can’t exist without. This is contrasted with the National Socialist belief that race is destiny that your DNA determines the course you’re going to take in life. A belief system rooted in the materialistic science of the era, which rejects the spiritual idealism of Fascism. A doctrine which divided citizens of nations living amongst each other into categories and hierarchies based upon phenotypes, something which derived most of its substance from England and the United States.
Mussolini’s disdain for Hitler and National Socialism was not as some historians argue rooted in jealousy of the Fuhrer but in ideological repulsion. A repulsion which would continue to reveal itself as the alliance with the Germans would continue to destroy his creation and his country.
Alliances by their very nature are partnerships between one or two entities, having common goals and aims. The entrance of the Italians into the Pact of Steel was made with this in mind; but soon deteriorated as Hitler had broken an agreement on the timeline which the two allies had agreed upon as far as when to go to war, leaving Italy woefully unprepared to engage in any type of conflict. The invasion of Poland in 1939 was accomplished under a veil of secrecy, with the Germans purposely leaving the Italians out of the decision making process. The same secrecy would be duplicated a year later during the invasion of Russia. To top it off the Balkans which was supposed to be in the Italian sphere of influence was already coming under German pressure and sway, along with Italy losing their primary sources of coal which came from Poland and Czechoslovakia. It’s at this point that Mussolini felt like he needed to act to prevent Italy from being encircled by the Germans. The invasion of Greece which turned out to be a disaster for the Axis was completely unnecessary. If Mussolini had been informed by Hitler of his intentions in regards to Russia it would have never taken place; it was done for purely defensive purposes to maintain Italian power in the Balkans in the face of overbearing German influence.
Given the actions of the Germans in regards to Italy there’s every reason to believe that the former wanted not a strong ally but a subservient puppet. The Germans only ever shipped a fraction of the supplies promised to the Italians, and the military support up until the fall of Mussolini’s regime was tepid at best constituting no more than a few divisions in North Africa.
The Racial policies of the Nazis were reflected in how they also ran the war, consistently abandoning their Mediterranean allies on the field of battle to save their own skins. Nothing reflects this more than the Battle of El Alamein where the Italian soldiers were left in the rear to their deaths to delay Montgomery so most of the German soldiers could escape. El Alamein itself is a tragedy that should have never happened. The island of Malta had been used throughout the war as a staging ground for British ships to destroy Italian supply convoys in the Mediterranean. As Italian fuel supplies grew progressively thinner throughout the war their navy was unable to engage the British in that theatre so supplying the Axis armies in North Africa became more and more difficult. The Italians had prepared an invasion of the island in 1942, but Rommel with Hitler’s backing ignored orders given by Commando Supremo and decided to invade Egypt instead. This ended up being the end of the Axis in North Africa as Rommel was subsequently defeated at El Alamein, not militarily, but through lack of supplies. The same process played itself out again in Tunisia as Axis troops couldn’t get the supplies needed to effectively defend North Africa. With their best troops now either dead or held captive by the Allies the Italians could no longer offer up an effective resistance to the invasion of the mainland.
This tragic farce of an alliance would come to an end in Northern Italy with the Italian Social Republic. The German influence over the RSI is undeniable but not as complete as one would believe. The RSI government which had to be made from scratch and despite the almost certain prospect of defeat was able to raise an army of 100,000 to fight for it, more than what was raised from the resistance. The National Fascist Party was able register 200,000 members; all of this for a cause which at the time was known to be destined to lose the war. Despite this show of support for Fascism by the Italian people the Germans treated the RSI as a puppet, never allowing Mussolini to implement his economic reforms, and supplying the new Italian army with only a fraction of the materials needed to fight; all this despite having adequate supplies but lacking the soldiers to use them.
Even worse than the contribution by the Germans to Italy’s military defeat was the role they played in staining Fascism by their rounding up of Italian Jews and putting them into concentration camps. Before the coup of 1943 Italian held territories refused to hand Jewish refugees over to the Germans, helping many of them escape Europe with their lives. One of the conditions for the establishment of the RSI was that the Italians go along with the Germans on the Jewish question. The consequence of refusing would be the establishment of a German protectorate a la Poland; a fate which would have been much worse for the Jews and Italians had it been achieved. This decision was not unique to Italian Fascists but was a decision which had to have been made by Fascists in Hungary, Belgium, and France and everywhere in Europe. The war had evolved to a point where regardless of its outcome Fascism had been hopelessly associated with the Nazis. Facing a choice of annihilation after the war by the democracies, Fascists made their decision. A decision which when the end came they realized had been a mistake.
“German policy in all conquered European countries has been guided by prejudice, by, old methods of war, and by diplomacy. It was not capable of developing something new out of the fabulous opportunities presented to it. It proved incapable of transforming its war of conquest into revolutionary war.” Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (1944)