From Churchill to NATO: How the west built and empowered Italian Fascism

By Mihalis Panayiotakis,
Analyst and Journalist

If I had been an Italian, I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism… (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism. Winston Churchill, 1927

This year is the centenary of the March on Rome, the coup that brought Mussolini’s fascist party to power in Italy in 1922. It is ironic that this anniversary coincides with the election for the first time of a government led by the direct descendants of the Italian Fascist Party. Ironic, but also indicative of Europe’s historical anachronism, as far-right parties and ideologies are elected to power and strengthened one after the other.

Meloni’s rise has been met with some media confusion and surprise outside of Italy, as the descendants of the fascist party have aligned themselves with NATO in Ukraine and elsewhere, rather than with Putin’s Russia, which the entire European far-right is assumed to support. But, for those familiar with Italian fascism’s close relationship with Britain, and, after the war, the US and NATO, Meloni’s support for NATO should not be surprising.

Britain’s assistance to Mussolini

Approaching this grim October anniversary, then (the invasion of Greece took place on the day of the 18th anniversary of the March on Rome), a book by historian Mario José Cereghino, and journalist Giovanni Fasanella, Nero di Londra (The Black of London) published a few days ago, examines Britain’s complicity in the creation and consolidation of the fascist current in Italy, by examining declassified files in the British archives. The evidence is fascinating and overturns much of what is widely supposed about the rise of fascism in Italy between the two world wars.

It has been a matter of public knowledge for over a decade that Benito Mussolini – then a journalist – was recruited by the British MI5 to help – through his articles and his thugs – to suppress the anti-war movement against the First World War in Italy. In fact, it was not really news at the time, but a confirmation of what Il Duce’s recruiter, Lord Templeton, confessed in his memoirs in 1954. The amount Mussolini received at the time (£100 a week – about 6,000 euros today) was quite substantial. The British, as the authors told the London Times, masterminded the March on Rome. They advised and supported Mussolini – code name “the Count” – at every stage of his rise – even funding the founding of the fascist party. Why did the British choose this path? Prior to the end of World War I, to ensure that Italy remained a belligerent and to suppress the working-class mobilization that most European governments saw as a common threat.

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Following the war, they combined their desire for a manageable government, with an anti-communist government in Italy.

Sir Samuel Hoare – later Lord Templeton – was a key player in the creation in Britain of the “Anti-Socialist Union“, a gang organized by the Conservative Party, which harassed trade union actions and mobilizations. The ASU was a model of fascist violence against workers’ struggles. In short, as Careghino told the Times: “Mussolini’s career between 1917 and 1922 would not have taken the path we know without the influence of the British conservative establishment.”

In 1943, a book titled “The Trial of Mussolini. Being a verbatim Report of the First Great Trial for War Criminals held in London sometime in 1944 or 1945” was published in the UK. It was a work of political fiction written by an unknown author going only by the name “Cassius,” and it was released not long after the Allied invasion of Italy in September of that year. The book speculated what might occur if Mussolini were captured by the Allies and tried for war crimes in London, given the support the British had given him for so long. The book was reviewed in an article by George Orwell who, after summing up the British government’s systematic support, approval and complicity with the fascist regime until shortly before the invasion of Greece – the only thing an English court could convict him of, according to Orwell – concluded, in a diatribe against political Machiavellianism, that the British ruling class had little to reproach Mussolini for:

“When one thinks of the lies and betrayals of those years, the cynical abandonment of one ally after another, the imbecile optimism of the Tory press, the flat refusal to believe that the dictators meant war, even when they shouted it from the house-tops, the inability of the moneyed class to see anything wrong whatever in concentration camps, ghettos, massacres and undeclared wars, one is driven to feel that moral decadence played its part as well as mere stupidity. By 1937 or thereabouts it was not possible to be in doubt about the nature of the Fascist régimes. But the lords of property had decided that Fascism was on their side and they were willing to swallow the most stinking evils so long as their property remained secure. In their clumsy way they were playing the game of Machiavelli, of ‘political realism’, of ‘anything is right which advances the cause of the Party’ — the Party in this case, of course, being the Conservative Party.”

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After the War: the crutch of fascism

The Allied invasion of Italy brought the country back into the orbit of Anglo-Saxon – this time American – influence. The US and Britain supported the “continuity” of the Italian state, Which meant impunity and the continuing clout of blood-soaked fascists or even war criminals who had operated in Greece, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia and Libya. The veil of state oblivion and the blatant support of former black-shirted anti-communists was preserved because of the “communist danger” that the mass, anti-fascist CPI represented.

WATCH: Ken Kirby’s 1989 BBC documentary on the non-prosecution of Italian fascists after the end of the war (see also Part I)

But beyond the tacit legitimation of fascist cadres, impunity and oblivion allowed the development of the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano – MSI), of Giorgio Almirante, a successor to the Fascist party, although officially distancing itself from the Mussolini regime, which actually began to play a major role in Italian politics by the late 1950s – a time when the word ‘fascism’ was still a heavy stigma throughout Europe. But if these were the predictable consequences of American strategy on an institutional level, a parallel mechanism was helping to build up the radical, armed, terrorist right – whose cadres were recruited from the violent fringe of the MSI and Mussolini loyalists. Operation Gladio – ostensibly a NATO plan to maintain secret armies which would be called upon to act in the event of a Soviet invasion of Europe – involved the entire European continent, but Italy was one of its critical loci.

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The CIA, thus, recruited and armed far-right groups in Italy as part of the Gladio operation. These groups were instrumental during the “years of lead” in actualizing the fascist strategy of tension of the 1960s and 1970s. It is speculated that one such group was behind the 1969 Piazza Fontana massacre, a crime – as Mario Prodi’s government revealed in 2000 – known in advance by the CIA, which failed to inform the Italian government. Mario Draghi had announced last summer the disclosure of secret documents relating to the Bologna station massacre in 1980, the worst mass murder in Europe until the Madrid bombings in 2004. It was believed that the documents would reveal Gladio’s connection to the neo-fascist groups that were the perpetrators of the bombing (beyond the already known involvement of the Italian state). Nothing of significance has been published to date.

WATCH: The BBC documentary on Gladio in Europe (1992)

(Indicative of US involvement in Italy’s internal affairs was the funding provided by the US State Department to protagonists of the failed/cancelled Borghese fascist coup in 1974 – in fact independently of the CIA).

Thus, the historical debt of Italian fascism to the Anglo-Saxons and NATO would not have permitted Meloni’s party to “lean” towards Russia . Italian fascism was boosted by Britain at its birth and flourished “explosively” under the auspices of NATO, and the policy of amnesia for the crimes of fascism that the US – in the name of the cold war and the war on the PCI – imposed…

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