Hypernationalist xenophobic potential everywhere
Prof. Bosworth, looking at this our 21st Century, in times of crisis which might get worse and worse, can we rule out the possibility of some new leaders, fascistoid if not fascist, coming up and sensing what their people want to dream of, and „do it again“, all over Europe, the ultranationalist way: the Greek way, the Turkish way, the Serbian way, the Spanish way, the Italian way, the Hungarian way, the Croatian way, the Dutch way, the Finnish way, the Polish way, the Slovak way, the Flemish way, the Walloon way, the Austrian way, the pan-German way, etc. etc. etc., anticipating and exploiting emotional „needs“ which others were not as good in anticipating and exploiting?
I too, am fearful, of the future, and I suppose I’m more and more in Europe, and for that matter in Australia and in the United States, because it does seem to me that very obviously in Europe you have a built-in group of people to be demonized as the enemies of the various nations of Europe, and they are of course the immigrants, particularly immigrants who look different, from 3rd world countries, and I suppose I do think there is quite a strong sense in which they are potentially the new Jews of Europe, and there is quite a lot of potential for some sort of generalized riotous hypernationalist xenophobic movement if this economic crisis is going to continue, to deteriorate further, and if the current hegemony of neoliberalism is unbreakable, and unchallengable.
Let me say one other matter there: because one of the things that really irritates me about Roger Griffin, and perhaps Emilio Gentile, and people like him, is that they have been writing in an era where the going political ideology has been neoliberalism, and where it seems to me that in issue after issue after issue neoliberalism has reinforced itself, it has all these semi-secret police and not secret organisations the IMF, the various American institutions, banks and all this sort of stuff, and in a way it seems to me that neoliberalism has greater totalitarian control over the whole of the so-called West than fascism ever remotely achieved in Italy, and so somehow trying to argue that there is something unique and maleficent about Italian fascism without seeing the context in which we are actually doing your research, seems to me a great deficiency of the work of Griffin amnd Gentile.
So you would not take that seriously the conspiracy theories of their times, when it was them, the fascists, talking about plutocrats, and of international capitalist interests conjuring against them…?
I think it’s very different now. I mean this is one reason why Europeans are so disconcerted and discontented with their political class: because whichever persuasion of political class you have, certainly between sort of simple conservative forces of one kind or another and labour force of one kind or another, neither of them can pursue any policies except the policies of neoliberalism, which is to reduce taxes and free the markets in order to allow the market to prosper and grow. And I suppose, it seems to me, this programme has not worked, for very many reasons that have nothing much to do with fascism.
Last question: coming from Australia, you almost come from another planet, you have a very good overview, I imagine, on historiographical traditions in Europe and in America. Is there something that even nowadays, after many years, may surprise you when you meet Italian or German-speaking historiographers?
Well, that’s an interesting question, and I think, it’s very dangerous to generalize. I certainly read plenty of Italian historians whose work I greatly admire, I’m far less competent to comment on German historiography, so it probably would be simpler not to do so. With Italy though, I do think there is a certain issue that we have not discussed so far, and that is the issue of what in Australia is I suppose is called Eurocentrism. Because it does seem to me that much of the debate about Italian fascism, and especially when you focus it on possible parallels with nazi Germany, in the final analysis comes back to the Holocaust, and perhaps some of the associated aspects of nazi racism, in particular, in other words the attacks on handicapped people, and on the Gypsies and Roma people and so on.
But doing that, in a way underestimates fascist Italian murder, and also I think, Italian murder, without the adjective „fascist“. If one is willing to agree that the Italian fascist dictatorship led about a million people to premature death, which seems to me a reasonable tally, it’s a rough tally but a reasonable tally, then about half of those deaths were actually Arabs and Berbs in Libya and of the various people of the Ethiopian Empire, in other words, they were people who died in Africa, somehow defined. And it does seem to me that those deaths have somehow been written out of Italian historiography.
There have been notable and fine exceptions, I think of the wonderful efforts that Angelo del Boca made to make the Italian military establishment admit that poison gas had been used in Lybia and Ethiopia during the fascist wars there. But I also think there is another problem, a deep contextual problem, and that is, I suppose that killing, that appalling record of killing in Libya and Ethiopia seems to me to be the responsability, yes of Mussolini and of Italian fascism with its violence and all those other matters you mentioned at the beginning, but I think it’s also the responsability of the Italian nation: after all, the main perpretators of the violence were the members of the Italian Air Force, and to get a job in the Italian Air Force in the 1930s, you had to be really quite well-educated, you’d very likely come from the bourgeoisie, or the better parts of the bourgeoisie, maybe you could talk the fascist talk and walk the fascist walk, but I think in your heart you had not stopped being someone who thought of yourself as defined by the Italian nation.
I suppose this is why I think, quite contrary to De Felice and his school, that one of the most interesting people in Italian fascism was actually Galeazzo Ciano, the genero, Mussolini’s son-in-law, a very peculiar one, because so bourgeois, so un-fascist in so many things about him. Now, when Ciano went off to bomb Ethiopian villages, he wrote back to Edda Mussolini, Mussolini’s favourite child and oldest daughter, and said that every time he watched the bombs explode on an Ethiopian village he had an orgasm. Now this is an appalling comment, and I think Italian historiography ought to get around to explaining, just as German historiography has got around trying to explain the appalling story of the Judaeocide, and has began to get around to try explaining the appalling story of the killings in the Soviet Union, so I think Italian historiography needs to get around to doing that.
Now, having said that, I need to make another major contextual point, and that is that it does seem to me that when one is to talk about models to try to understand Italian fascism, we’ve talked quite a bit about a so-called model of fascism, which is a model which unites Italy and nazi Germany, and I still think it is a very useful model. We haven’t talked about the model of totalitarianism, which uses the Soviet Union as the sort of third phase of the comparison, I must say that is a far less useful model because in fact the history of the Soviet Union was really in many ways rather different from that in Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.
But there was also the old idea of connecting fascism with European imperialism. And when one talks about Italians murdering Arabs and Berbers and Ethiopians, one should not forget that the British and the French and the Belgians and the Portuguese and the Spanish and the Australians also murdered indigenous people, although they did in the cavalier manner that the Italians did it from the late 1920s till the end of the 1930s, They did it much earlier, generally speaking. The Italians are belated imperialists. So, I do think then, there is a connection there, between the worst side of the fascist story and European Imperialism in general.
(third and last part of our June 2012 interview at Jesus College, Oxford, with Richard J. Bosworth)