Of the three aggressor nations that made up the Axis during the Second World War, only one saw its population rise up and topple a dictatorship. While the populations of Germany and Japan remained largely supportive of the regimes right up the surrender, the Italians ousted Mussolini in 1943, bringing an end to the fascist era. And in 1945, the former dictator was captured and killed by Italian partisans.
Italians are rightly proud of this fact, but there’s another side to the story — one which we saw in action this last weekend — and that’s the continuing presence of openly fascist parties in Italian politics. While the Germans and to a lesser degree the Japanese have repudiated their country’s role in the war, in Italy there has long been open support for fascism and nostalgia for the dictator. Mussolini’s own granddaughter served as an MEP for a right-wing Italian party. The danger of allowing fascism to survive as a political movement, even on the fringes, has now become abundantly clear.
In Italy, as elsewhere in Europe, the COVID pandemic has given the far right a cause to latch on to. Parties which never gave a damn about human liberty — indeed, which worked tirelessly against freedom — have suddenly turned into fanatical proponents of everyone’s right not to be vaccinated. Anti-lockdown demonstrations in Germany and elsewhere have seen a significant far right presence.
This past weekend, some 10,000 far right and anti-vax campaigners took to the streets of Rome to protest against the imposition of a mandatory “green pass.” That pass requires everyone to be able to prove either that they have been vaccinated, or have taken a COVID test that turned out to be negative, or have already had the virus. From mid-October, the “green pass” will be compulsory in workplaces. The “green pass” has the support of both employers and the country’s unions.
Those demonstrators stormed the offices of the CGIL, one of Italy’s national trade union centres. Equipped with metal bars, sticks and flags, giving the fascist salute to the cameras, they smashed up furniture, destroyed symbols, sent computers crashing to the floor. Such an attack on the national headquarters of a major trade union movement in Europe has not occurred since the end of the Second World War.
Condemnation has been swift and widespread. CGIL’s Secretary General, Maurizio Landini, said that this was “an attack on democracy and on the world of work that we are determined to repel. No one should think they can take our country back to the Fascist years.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Landini to express “the government’s full solidarity for the assault that has taken place today in Rome. Trade unions are a fundamental stronghold of democracy and of workers’ rights. Whatever intimidation they face must be repelled with absolute firmness.”
A number of political leaders have issued calls for the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party, which played a key role in the attack, to be banned.
CGIL has now been given the historic task of seizing this moment to complete the anti-fascist revolution that began in Italy during the Second World War. It will do this by forming alliances with other trade unions, civil society organisations and political parties.
It has issued a call for a mass demonstration against fascism to take place on Saturday the 16th. That demonstration must be the beginning of a long fight that completes the defeat of fascism in Italy — and across Europe.
This article appears in today’s issue of Solidarity.