J. B. Bosworth’s excellent “Mussolini’s Italy” illustrates the vast differences between the two right-wing populists
Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945, R. J. B. Bosworth, Penguin Press, 736 pages, 2006, $25.00 paperback
By George Howland Jr.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump should not be compared to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Commentators ranging from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey have compared the president to the Duce, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1945. While Trump is a very dangerous chief executive, Mussolini was a fascist who cleverly combined violence against the Italian population itself with deft manipulation of the existing political elites. Whatever his desires, Trump has not practiced the former and seems incapable of the latter.
A good jumping off point for examining the Duce in detail is Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945, by R. J. B. Bosworth, the renowned Australian scholar.
Fascism: from decentralization to dictatorship
After World War I, when the fascist movement began, its organization was highly decentralized. There was no single leader and no nationwide or regional coordination of activity. Instead, local strongmen attacked their enemies as they saw fit. Communists and socialists were the common enemies of these little Duces. The fascists used squads of thugs and former soldiers to beat, maim and kill their enemies. The squads also destroyed the leftists’ infrastructure: burning their offices and smashing their printing presses. During the rise of fascism, 3000 Italians were killed (425 were fascists).
While Trump has used the government to commit acts of horrible cruelty against immigrants and refugees—separation of families and detention in inhumane facilities—populist violence has not been in his toolbox. Gangs of Republicans are not physically attacking Democrats and setting fire to their offices. I do not see any signs of such “squadrism” emerging in our current political environment.
The president’s totalitarianism has been constrained by U.S. institutions
By George Howland Jr.
There’s been some loose talk lately comparing President Donald J. Trump to Adolf Hitler.
First, Christine Todd Whitman, who previously served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Republican governor of New Jersey, tweeted that Hitler “has nothing” on Trump. “Hitler took a long time to get where he was and he had to do a lot of other things. Trump is going much faster,” Whitman told New York NBC affiliate Channel 4, on Oct. 16.
Yesterday, Oct. 20, on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic U.S. Representative and a presidential candidate, talked about Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. O’Rourke said, “Outside of Nazi Germany, it is hard for me to find another modern democracy that had the audacity to say something like this and then this idea from Goebbels and Hitler that the bigger the lie and the more often you repeat it, the more likely people are to believe it. That is Donald Trump to a T.”
If we are going to be able to defeat Trump, we need to be clear about what is going on in our country. Much to my surprise, Trump’s efforts to subvert democracy and civil society have been defeated on many fronts. By contrast, Hitler quickly dismantled Germany’s constitution and destroyed the nation’s democratic institutions.
An activist historian writes a terrific survey of 70 years of American anti-authoritarianism
Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century
Andrew Cornell (University of California Press, 2016, 416 pages, $24.95)
by George Howland Jr.
By writing an insightful, accessible and thorough history of 20th century anarchism, Andrew Cornell has made an important contribution to understanding the great social movements of that era. “Unruly Equality” can help inform current activists, historians and the general public about the contribution of anti-authoritarians to such movements as the mass labor struggles of the 1910s, the Black Freedom Movement of the 1950s and the New Left of the 1960s.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that emerged out of the great workers’ movement of the 19th century. Early anarchists broke with Karl Marx and his socialist adherents over the issues of hierarchy, power and the state. Anarchists believe that a truly egalitarian society can only be created by equals who eliminate all forms of domination including government.
In his history, Cornell makes important distinctions between the different kinds of anarchist philosophy and tactics that were present in the U.S. from 1900 to 1970. (There is an epilogue that briefly surveys contemporary anarchists including the Occupy movement, but a real history of 1970-2000 is still needed.)