The Great Benito?

Young Mussolini and the Intellectual Origins of Fascism

by A. James Gregor
University of California Press, 271 pp., $16.50

Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship

by A. James Gregor
Princeton University Press, 427 pp., $9.75 (paper)

Sergio Panunzio: il sindacalismo ed il fondamento razionale del fascismo

by A. James Gregor
Volpe editore (Rome), 327 pp., 5,000 lire

The word “fascism” is used in so many senses that much of its utility has been lost. The term “Italian fascism” is more precise, but can still present problems to anyone looking for a convincing and comprehensive definition. Professor Gregor is not daunted by these difficulties; in three much overlapping books he examines the ideology of Italian fascism and comes to the striking conclusion that it was one of the most consistent ideologies of our time, entirely coherent, with “intellectual credentials as compelling as any.” He sees Mussolini as not just a successful politician, but as a sophisticated political thinker who anticipated most of the problems exercising us today and whose thought has significantly influenced European history ever since his death in 1945.

His main theme is that Mussolini, as well as being a major syndicalist theoretician, was the first person to realize that an undeveloped country such as Italy could not be modernized until it renounced pluralism and parliamentarism and developed into a dictatorship with a vision of national development, capable of mobilizing the masses; hence Castro and Mao, in their different ways, have been merely following the long-term plan of the fascists to modernize Italy. The published works of the young Mussolini are quoted as showing us “the shape of things to come” and opening “an epoch that is not yet behind us”; if studied carefully his early writings will afford what Gregor calls “explanatory and predictive leverage” for future would-be revolutionaries, and the only pity is that world war came in 1939, too soon for other countries to realize that fascist syndicalism had a universal application.

Syndicalism is another word that covers a variety of meanings. Though all syndicalists believed that power should ultimately be held by organized groups of workers, some Italian syndicalists were republicans, others monarchists; some were anti-state, some pro-state; some were protectionists, some believed in free trade. But Professor Gregor glosses lightly over these difficulties and singles out half a dozen syndicalists who were “the intellectual architects” of fascism and who, through their “documented influence on Mussolini,” had an “incalculable impact” on the shaping of events between 1920 and 1945. Chief among these were Sergio Panunzio, Robert Michels, and Paolo Orano. All were influenced by the syndicalism of Georges Sorel and all used to write for the periodical Avanguardia socialista just after the turn of the century. Like Sorel they opposed both parliamentary reform and the notion of some Marxists that social change would be the inevitable consequence of existing conditions, suggesting indeed that such change would only be brought about by a violent struggle on the part of the proletarian elite. All of them were eventually given professorships in the faculty of fascist political science at Perugia where they became the principal ideologues of the regime.

The choice of these three men is a strange one. If we are talking about documented influence, it is doubtful there is proof that Mussolini read more than one book each by Michels and Orano: he …

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An Exchange on Fascism November 6, 1980