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  • The Making of Fascism: Class, State, and Counter-Revolution, Italy 1919–1922
  • Steven C. Hughes
The Making of Fascism: Class, State, and Counter-Revolution, Italy 1919–1922. By Dahlia S. Elazar (New York: Praeger, 2001. xii plus 172 pp. $56.00).

This is a difficult book to review for an historian because the author, who is a sociologist, spends a good deal of time and talent proving a proposition which would seem somewhat obvious to most people in our discipline. That is that political decisions and actions, carried out in response to historically conditioned circumstances, have political and social consequences. More specifically she maintains that “...the Fascists’ seizure of power was neither pregiven nor foretold by the organization’s ‘historical origins,’ nor was it determined by its ‘social base.’ Rather, it was the outcome of concrete political struggles guided by specific strategies employed by political organizations. The Italian Fascists did not take political power in an electoral campaign that won the ‘hearts and minds’ of a broad and free ‘mass base,’ but in a violent struggle in the streets, aided and abetted by the propertied class and state authorities.” (p. 151) As a corollary to this central point, which she defines as “contrary to the prevailing sociological theories,” she argues that the early aims and organization of the Fascists evolved radically and rapidly as opportunities for different alliances presented themselves between 1919 and 1922, and that the very expansion of the armed squads in the northern and central parts of Italy eventually determined the ultimate strategy of seizing power out of the hands of liberal parliamentarians. All of this is reasonable and fits comfortably within the current consensus of Italian historians, with whose works she is impressively conversant. Indeed, given her excellent grasp of the secondary literature, one wonders how she can make the claim that there is generally “ implicit conception of Fascism as a pregiven, monolithic, and static phenomenon” (p. 2) unless she is referring to a select group of unfortunately ahistorical colleagues. Be that as it may, in coming to these general conclusions, she offers some interesting assertions based on rather creative statistics (twenty-six tables in 153 pages), the analysis of which takes up a substantial amount of the text.

Regarding the seizure of power, the author effectively asserts that the Fascists changed the rules of the game by the militarization of politics. Revolutionary syndicalists, returning veterans, and want-to-be soldiers combined old and new traditions of violence to create action squads willing to attack Socialists and their organizations. Comparing data from the 1920 provincial elections with the frequency of Fascist violence between November 1920 and May 1921, she argues that there was a clear pattern by which the greatest number of attacks occurred in those provinces where the Socialists had their greatest successes, specifically the areas of the North which had undergone capitalist transformation of labor [End Page 819] relations. A similar correlation emerges between Fascist illegal take-overs of provincial governments and the deterioration of “liberal hegemony” as marked by Socialist electoral majorities or pluralities. In those areas where the liberals maintained control, both attacks and takeovers were less likely, although not impossible. This correlation was anything but accidental and reflected the fact that the Fascist squads were aided and abetted by local agrarian elites and their bureaucratic allies in those areas where their traditional economic and political power had been most seriously eroded. Thus money, men, and most crucially, transportation were offered to the Fascists to carry out “punitive expeditions” at ever expanding distances from provincial centers. At the same time, prefects, police, and judges selectively punished Socialists who might respond to the attacks, while offering the Fascists legal impunity and active assistance. This all emanated from longstanding traditions by which landowners had organized in self-defense against labor organizers often in collusion with local authorities. Capitalizing on those traditions and the willingness of paramilitary gangs to resort to violence within the post-war context of economic dislocation, governmental crisis, and Socialist “insurgency” the Fascists quickly redirected their energies towards gaining power at the local and then the national level. Hence “...the Fascists never ‘seized power’ so much as they...

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