Copyright 1999, H-Net

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Published by (December, 1999)

Alexander J. De Grand.  L'Italia fascista e la Germania nazista_.
Bologna: Il Mulino, 1999.  159 pp.  Index.  LIT 18.000 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed for H-Italy by Elia Casali Vendemini, University of Pisa

The main aim of A.J. De Grand's research is to establish, if
possible, strong connections between the Italian and the German
experiences of a 'fascist' form of government. There has been a long
debate about this topic, over whether, and to what extent,
Mussolini's and Hitler's regimes were similar to each other and part
of the same type of "generic fascism" (p. 9).  De Grand attempts to
sum up the historiographical controversies and to reach his own
conclusions from an outsider's perspective.  He tries to understand
how the two regimes faced similar problems, and how they organized
their form of government.

In De Grand's opinion, fascism was considered by many as an answer
to the political and social transformations that took place at the
beginning of the twentieth Century. At that time the state was
unprepared to face the new challenges:  general elections, the
crisis of the bourgeois political organizations, the development of
the socialist movement into parties and trade unions, and the
discontent of the traditional industrial and landlord elites with
the parliamentary system.  In both Italy and Germany the economic
difficulties and the Great War increased the political and social
unrest; as a result "the process of decomposition of the middle
class political order" (p. 16) was accelerated. The 'rump victory'
in Italy and the military defeat in Germany fuelled class conflict
and pitted the younger generation against the older one; while the
latter, which controlled the state, seemed incapable of resolving
problems, the former was struck harshly by unemployment and economic

The author spots two main similarities between the Italian and the
German case.  He sees the first in the origin and in the initial
development of the two regimes, including the ways that led the PNF
and the NSDAP to power and the second, in how they structured the
organization of the state once they came to power.  De Grand affirms
that they both tried to create a new society in order to give an
answer to the inadequacies of nineteenth-century state, and in the
process of this "revolution," they both had to face the resistance
of the social and economic status quo on which they partly relied.
There was only one solution, according to the author: the two
regimes had to abandon a large part of the radical elements of their
programs in order to reach political stability and settlement with
the existing elites.  The Italian and German fascist movements tried
to build a different kind of national unity, based not on the
"common good" but on other principles knowing that their countries
were internally fragmented.

De Grand asserts that both the PNF and the NSDAP originally were
political movements without a strong central direction.  Their
members could join other associations and there was no strict
ideology to which they were required to adhere.  Furthermore, the
author affirms that their beliefs were very similar.  The negation
of parliamentary and democratic political order, the exaltation of
violence and of physical strength, the "revolutionary project" of a
new society, a new spirituality through the negation of materialism
and the ecstasy of irrationalism.  Their Weltanschauung rejected the
socialist concept of "class."  They saw, instead, a different
fissure in society--one that on the one hand divided those who
produced (on the battlefield as well as in the factories), and on
the other those who did not (the politicians, Great war profiteers,
and the pacifist socialists).  What emerges from De Grand's research
is that the PNF and the NSDAP were not the only parties which tried
to get votes from the "productive" class; they also had to look for
support where they had no competitors, appealing to conservative
society, the middle class and the small and large landholders as the
natural opponents to Bolshevism.

Another very interesting aspect that emerges from De Grand's study
is that the PNF and the NSDAP came to power in a very similar way.
Their violent propaganda increased social struggle everywhere in
their countries. They pushed the socialists to react to their
provocations and this strategy transformed the political
confrontation into a literal fight for power.  The polarization of
society produced by this violent behavior benefitted the fascist
parties.  De Grand affirms that a very important element
constituting fascist political success was that the ideology of both
the PNF and the NSDAP, even if potentially revolutionary, wasn't
clear, while the socialists seemed to be much more convinced of
their own goals. In addition, while the middle-class elites thought
that it would be easy to keep control of the fascist parvenus to
power, Mussolini and Hitler used their political strength to impose
conditions and vetoes on their involvement in the government.

After the PNF and the NSDAP came to power they both needed some time
to establish and enforce their rule over the country.  Here De Grand
spots some differences between the Italian and the German cases.
Since the early 1920s in the case of the PNF, and the early 1930s in
that of the NSDAP, the two fascist movements trod parallel political
courses but with a different degrees of intensity.  Whereas
Mussolini encountered many forms of resistance and had to co-exist
with other competitors for power, such as the Italian monarchy or
and rivals even inside his own party, Hitler, proved very strong
right from the beginning and he brought his plans very nearly to
completion, controlling the party and the country much more
thoroughly than Mussolini could. In De Grand's opinion, the two
political movements were not so dissimilar to each other, and both
of them could have attained the most pervasive form of
totalitarianism if only they had had equal opportunities to achieve
complete control over the country.

The most relevant differences between the two fascist regimes lied,
in De Grand's opinion, in their differing attitudes towards culture
and religion.  Inside the PNF There was no uniform agreement on
religious matters.  In Italy the Catholic Church exercised strong
influence on the people, while in Germany it constituted a weak
regional power. Furthermore, the leaders of the NSDAP were generally
unfriendly towards any sort of Christian religion.  The author
insists, however, that a settlement with the Church of Rome had to
be found in Germany as well as Italy because in both countries there
existed a strong Catholic party, the Zentrum and the Partito
popolare respectively.  The fundamental nature that the two
concordats reached, however, was very different. In Germany the
accord barely conceded the right of existence to the Catholic
Church's regional organizations; in Italy it gave the people the
option to be both fascists and Catholics.  In Italy, in De Grand's
opinion, those who were religious could continue to take part to the
political life of the country, while in Germany the Nazi regime de
facto excluded them, imposing decisions which could not be
harmonized with a true Christian faith (such as racial persecutions,
abortions, euthanasia, sterilization).

In Italy the strong presence of Catholic religion and organizations
influenced Mussolini's regime even for policies concerning women.
Although the fascist ideology intended to abolish class struggle by
establishing a new corporative society, its ideas about the role of
women in such a society remained very conservative.  Several social
reforms completed women's integration into the regime, but on a
submissive level.  In Germany, Hitler had similar beliefs about the
role of women in Nazi society but he never tried to force them to
stay home, indeed, he supported their participation in industrial
production and their political commitment, even if he never allowed
their total political involvement in the regime.

What De Grand wants to affirm in his analysis is that despite these
marked differences in the achievements of the two fascist regimes,
both Mussolini and Hitler had similar ideas on how to shape the
structure of the new state.  The keystone of the fascist political
system was the leader: every person and every group, every lobby,
lay beneath him on the same level. This was the "corporative fascist
state," where each power group was to be represented by a lobby and
where the supreme leader dealt with any problems and conflicts which
could arise among the various interests without requiring them to be
submitted by any formal or legal procedure. As De Grand explains,
the "rebellious fascist mentality" (p. 53), could hardly adapt to
the traditional way of government.  This meant a proliferation of
institutional bodies answerable to the leader, which Mussolini and
Hitler created day by day to deal with specific matters; this
practice developed because they feared any kind of strong and
permanent power other than their own.  This system of government, in
the author's opinion, where many institutions overlapped and clashed
with one another, was extremely chaotic, and only the leader could
keep it working.

De Grand affirms that the fascist corporative state, which was
presented by Mussolini and Hitler as the 'third way' between
capitalism and communism, never came succeeded because of the middle
and upper-class' resistance and because of their opposition to the
workers' representation in factories. In the industrial sector, a
process of cartelization took place that favored the factory owners.
In the agricultural sector, both regimes helped production and
sustained the prices of the most important goods (especially wheat)
by putting them under state control.  If this aid initially pushed
up the prices and helped the economy, over the long run, it became a
brake on the expansion of the sector.  The economic depression and
the Second World War put pressure on the two fascist regimes who
turned towards strict regulation in every economic sector: from 1936
on, the Author points out, in both the industrial and in
agricultural sectors there was a call for "autarchy," or
self-dependence for the nation.  This was partly achieved through
the direct intervention of the state in the national economy and,
eventually, through the creation of a military economic system.

On the very controversial matter of racial and religious
discrimination and persecution De Grand sees that Mussolini's
ideology was not incompatible with that of Hitler; this is clearly
shown by the fact that at the end of the 1930s the Duce aligned with
Hitler on this matter.  It is true that the Italian dictatorship was
more conservative in its application than Hitler's reign of terror
proved; it was closer to Spanish totalitarianism than to the German.
But in Italy, De Grand concludes, the fascist experience has been
less extreme not because of the "inherently good Italian nature,"
but because of "a series of structural and institutional limitations
which blocked radical and racial versions of fascism from
dominating," even if "Mussolini sought to remove [them] as he edged
towards war on the side of Hitler" (p. 106).

De Grand's study seems a quite accurate and complete analysis of the
topic, even if in general terms.  The author's personal knowledge of
fascist history proves very valuable in this book, where he tries to
sketch a comprehensive, comparative perspective of Italian and
German totalitarianism.  _L'Italia fascista e la Germania nazista_
is very useful general reading for those who intend to study the
topic at an introductory level.  The book though might lack interest
for the more specialized scholar as it adds nothing really added to
the existing historiography.

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Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 12/01/00
S D Stein

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