[Note This is also available on engelsk]
The main street here in the city of Siracusa in Sicily is Corso Giacomo Matteotti, named after the politician who in the 20th century openly criticized Benito Mussolini and the fascists within the Italian Parliament. The socialist and party leader was critical of the rise of fascism, violence, electoral fraud and corruption. In 1924 he published a book which would later be given the English title Fascist Exposed: A Year of Fascist Domination. He was then dragged into a car by some of Mussolini's henchmen, who simply stabbed him to death. Later, the body was found a couple of miles outside of Rome. The killers came, among other things, from the fascists' secret police. Matteotti's colleagues, the anti-fascists, eventually tried to arrest Mussolini, who must have been behind it – but did not succeed, as Mussolini spoke well for himself and had the support of the king and the elites. This was a turning point, where politicians were now killed for their opinions – fascism had taken hold.
In Italy now have Giorgia Meloni became prime minister. She has previously expressed her admiration for Mussolini. Is Italy moving towards the extreme right with neo-fascist features? Meloni was elected exactly 100 years after Mussolini's famous march on Rome in October 1922 – which was probably when fascism was seriously established in Europe.
Our times are reminiscent of the run-up to what happened historically before the Second World War. Both Putin and Zelenskyy muster seductively more warfare from their respective countries. And politicians like Biden, Stoltenberg, von der Leuven and native Huitfeldt cheer and cheer for a war where everyone ends up as losers. What propaganda are we not exposed to? And the danger is there that this escalates with nuclear weapons with catastrophic consequences for the whole of Europe. Were Crimea and Donbass really that important to the Ukrainians and the world – or are there other forces at play?
38-year-old Mussolini came to power in 1922 because others wanted him there.
To illustrate the environment and atmosphere of the war is our permanent supplement ORIENTERING (in the middle of the newspaper) this time called "Eternal war". You will find topics such as military refusal; peace work; feminists against Putin's warmongering; who must have blown up the gas pipelines in the North Sea; the book War today; the many abusers of international law; and the role of intellectuals in Ukraine and Belarus. But also look at pages 60–63 about the Soviet Union, or what servile role Norway and the media played in the face of Hitler and the Vietnam War. Also note the films reviewed in the attached Modern Times Review, and the Norwegian festival Movies on War, as well as Sergei Loznitsa's new archive-based documentary The Natural History of Destruction which deals with the massive bombing of British and German cities during the Second World War – and asks the timely question of whether it is morally acceptable to kill civilian populations as a means of war? Do I need a reminder of today's bombing of the cities in Ukraine, Syria or Gaza?
Mussolini 'grew' on the tasks
But back to how war breaks out, to fascism. Italian fascism is well described in the new documentary The March on Rome by Marc Cousins. It begins with that Donald Trump is asked if he recognizes Mussolini. The film ends by recalling today's right turn with Italy's Meloni, Hungary's Orbán and Germany's xenophobic party AfD.
Interestingly, 38-year-old Mussolini came to power in 1922 because others wanted him there. And according to Daniel Guérin's book Fascism et grand capital. Italy-Allemagne (1936, published under the English title Fascism and Big Business in 1973) he had the support of the Banca Commerciale Italiana, which pushed him into the circles of power, helped by the magnates of the Italian Industrial Confederation, the Agricultural Confederation and personalities such as Senator Ettore Conti or entrepreneurs such as Antonio S. Benni and Adriano Olivetti. They all supported fascism and gave huge sums of money. Mussolini was thus the candidate of the plutocracy and trade organisations.
Mussolini 'grew' on the tasks. He started the famous "Marcia su Roma", the march of black-clad fascists who left Naples to seize power in Rome. He himself was unsure whether they would be able to do this, so he actually came behind in a sleeping car from Milan (with the intention of fleeing north if things went wrong) – and then showed himself marching symbolically to the people of Rome.
Mussolini was concerned with aesthetics. Big speeches with public assemblies and processions were part of the package to incite people to participation. And people were delighted. As the film shows, Mussolini had read Gustave Le Bons several times Crowd psychology (1895, published in English under the title The Psychology of the Masses the year after).
Mussolini also opportunistically allied himself with the king, the church and capital, the groups he had previously criticized as a republican, non-Christian and socialist. He also provided his own archives with corruption details on other fascist leaders. As a former teacher (he preferred to be called 'Il professore' by his wife Rachele) and journalist, he dealt with both knowledge and the media. And aesthetically, symbolism with uniforms, architecture and bodily willpower applied. He was supported by the Futurists, as their founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti glorified war, a violent dynamic that should have a purifying effect, in which weapon technology and metal should almost merge with the modern human body.
The film also shows Mussolini as a rhetorical master: "Fascism is a religious belief. If fascism were not a faith, how else would its followers have both stoicism and courage?" He appealed to the 'spirit' rather than the intellect. The intellectuals have always been despised by (neo)fascists – but also by most people.
Now it was a while since the Roman Empire, but the fascists dreamed of becoming a new 'gentleman's people'. With Marc Cousin's continuous commentary in the film, we also hear and see how the 'propaganda film' A Request (55 min., 1922) by director Umberto Paradisi, promoted the filmed march as a symbolic turning point (similar to Riefenstahl's The triumph of the will, see later).
First halfway through Cousins The March on Rome archive clips are shown where Hitler and Himmler come down to Italy in 1938 to show off together with Mussolini on balconies, in dinners with the elite, or with an inspecting gaze during military exercises. The documentary shows many telling archive clips – also gatherings with Italian crowds who are wild with excitement for what is promised to them. Mussolini sees himself as invulnerable among the people, protected by God.
In the misery
Is it possible to understand what makes most people hail leaders who lead them into violent carnage – and a growing murderous military industry?
It often starts somewhere else. In the 1920s, Italy suffered, among other things, from high inflation. People fell into poverty. Mussolini therefore declared himself a 'deflationist', and in 1924 he almost 'printed' state money, according to Gueren's book, to both industry and banks that had failed – he got Banco di Roma, Banco di Napoli and Banco di Sicilia on their feet, for example again. Mussolini's state continued with 'subsidies' beyond the hard 30s – and eventually owned three-quarters of the Italian economy via shares.
As Mussolini wrote in 1921, according to Guérin, he assumed that in the coming decades the Italians would “feel the need for a dictator. We are waiting for a savior who will lead us out of our misery, but no one knows where he will come from” [quotes translated here from English]. Guerin also wrote about Hitler's statement: "Our task is to give the dictator, when he appears, a people ready for him." While several people stood behind the myth that built Mussolini, the cult around Hitler in Germany was promoted by Goebbels who said: "Belief in the leader is surrounded, one might say, by a mysterious and enigmatic mysticism!" – Yes, what propaganda machine today does not have a Putin, Stoltenberg, Biden or Zelenskyj – with media that are far more effective than the speeches of the national assemblies.
For Mussolini, the madness lasted until 1945, when he was killed by the partisans. We see him there in the film lying in the square in the middle of a crowd happily kicking the corpse of him and his mistress.
"What is wrong does not cease to be wrong even if the majority supports it".
But fascism was still not 'rounded off' with the fall of the Axis powers. Despite Mussolini's argument that their fascism was not an export, similar dictatorships followed or already existed in Europe – such as in Turkey, Poland, Portugal and Spain. The trend today is also more and more authoritarian state leadership.
Riefenstahl and Hitler
And Germany? In the new book Texts about movies with essays by Susan Sontag (Existenz Forlag, translated by Agnete Øye), in the chapter "Fascinating fascism" we can read how the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl staged the masses under Hitler.
Sontag refers to the monumental and the obedience of the masses to the 'leader' as a common feature of both communist and fascist art. For "all totalitarian regimes, the function of art is to 'immortalise' the regime's leaders and doctrines", she claims. And as Goebbels said in 1933, the leaders felt like artists, where the artist's task was "to form, to give form, to remove the sick and make room for the healthy".
But we should not forget, as Sontag points out, that National Socialism and fascism stand for attitudes that live on today, such as "the ideal of life as art; cultivation of beauty; the fetishization of bravery; the flight from alienation into ecstatic feelings of community; the contempt for the intellect [...]". These are (fascist) longings that many people recognize. And many want a guru, or a delightful 'show'.
Riefenstahl wanted to seduce. As stated in Texts about movies was she "not interested in what is purely realistic, taken straight from reality, the ordinary, everyday". No, neither did Mussolini and Hitler. The oppression is deliberately aestheticized and staged. The masses express ecstasy, «the leader gives the masses orgasm», as Sontag writes.
Riefenstahl helped plan Hitler's great party congress in 1934, where she recorded for The triumph of the will [see the article's main image] of the mass demonstration that paid tribute to the 'driver'. From Hitler, she had unlimited access to resources for the film. This historical event served as the set for a film that would then appear as an authentic documentary. The party congress is "hailed as a saving high point in German history", as Sontag writes. The goal was simply seductive propaganda to later use military force to create the Third Reich. As is well known, Mussolini also had expansion plans...
What about Giorgia Meloni here in Italy: What neo-fascist traits can be found among the three-leaf clover of Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini today? As is well known, Meloni's slogan is "God, the family, the fatherland" – like Mussolini's. Her progressive party Fratelli d'Italia was established in 2012 – the name is taken from Italy's national anthem. A song that sings about waking up, rallying the country – Italy is calling, be ready to die! Meloni also calls for more (white) births, as Mussolini did. But this does not apply to migrants today – Berlusconi previously proposed almost 'cleansing' the country of immigrants.
Now Meloni has sued the famous journalist Robert Saviano for defamation, when he stood up on TV and explained the inhumane refugee policy Meloni and Salvini lead towards NGOs and ships that try to help refugees – prompted by the little 6-year-old Joseph who died when doctors did not could come to. The trial could send Saviano to prison for up to three years.
Mussolini openly declared that his regime was totalitarian – will the trio of leaders in Italy be able to say that they have no such traits?
God: Meloni is not alone in pointing to the sky when oppressing others. The family: People allow themselves to be somewhat selfishly seduced where they fear that the strangers will take their jobs. And the fatherland: With globalisation's constantly new fleeting identities, many seek security in the 'fixed' values of tradition – with a desire for one leader or driver.
Meloni's slogan is "God, the family, the fatherland"
According to Timothy Snyder, the governing set of the more or less fascist leaders who are chosen can have the following characteristics: one-party rule, leadership cult, media control, cult around the empire, conspiracy theories, war of annihilation and genocide.
Will this now make a serious comeback in Europe? Will more people than the former actor Zelenskyj throw themselves into the fight for 'freedom' against the evil Russian? Where did all the sins that Ukraine faced, such as corruption, widespread violence and human rights violations, go? A state that recently banned Russian as a language and a third of parliament's pro-Russian parties – in a country where 17 percent have Russian as their mother tongue? Is this neo-fascist, or is it a copy of today's Russian totalitarianism – which we also despise?
While people fearfully allocate money for more weapons and let the bombs take over for every form of communication, I can recall what Leo Tolstoy once wrote: "Wrongness does not cease to be wrong even if the majority stands behind it."
The trio of Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi in Rome will probably become another strong role model for nationalism, a one-dimensionality where new walls are constantly being built. Here at MODERN TIMES, we hardly share the attitudes of the mass media or the majority at the moment. As Gandhi once wrote: "In matters of conscience the law of the majority has no place."