Commentary. It is true that Giorgia Meloni's brand of fascism is not the same as that of Benito Mussolini, but she still can’t keep the truth from slipping out: that she, too, has never even attempted a critical reflection on those two decades of Italian history.

Partisans had the courage to invent a new world

We are celebrating the first April 25 under a government that draws its political-cultural inspiration from those who were defeated on that date. It is obviously impossible to really have a common celebration. ARCI had the right idea when they made a poster for this occasion which says: “April 25 – divisive. For the fascists.” For it to be a day of pride for our current ministers as well, they would have needed to accomplish that same revolution within themselves that so many young people in the immediate postwar period were able to make. Unfortunately, the former have always lacked that courage and intelligence.

It is true that Giorgia Meloni’s brand of fascism is not the same as that of Benito Mussolini (one can’t say the same for some of her ministers or associates, however), and yet, no matter how careful she is, she still can’t keep the truth from slipping out: that she, too, has never even attempted a critical reflection on those two decades of Italian history. I was struck by a revealing line of hers from a few days ago, as she was catching a plane to Addis Ababa: “We haven’t been taking care of Africa in a while,” she said, with the guilty tone of an NGO regretting its lack of engagement. Meaning: we’re no longer “taking care” of it as we did back then.

Those were terrifying words, because she seems unaware of how exactly Italy “helped” Africa back in the not-so-distant 1930s. One wonders if Giorgia has ever had any idea what the Fascists actually did when they “took care” of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Libya. The era of “Little black face, we will come to liberate you!“ – a slogan I remember written on the wall of my classroom – was one of the most shameful pages of our country’s history.

Of course, it’s true that now we aren’t going to Africa with gas bombs, but to make trade deals and agree on measures to prevent Africans from enjoying the same rights as Westerners, such as the right to travel where they want – at least when they are in dire need of it. But it is a known fact that politics adapts to the times, and today certain old-fashioned devices, such as, for example, military coups, are not even needed anymore: globalization has offered more delicate tools. On the other hand, we’ve learned how to spread civil wars, which offer more or less the same advantages.

The fact of not knowing, or not grasping the substance of what Fascism was, was a difficult and even painful matter for those who were 18 years old or so in 1943-45. One of Togliatti’s great merits was that he took this into account and showed great humanity: when he landed in newly liberated Salerno, back in February 1944, he didn’t come from a place of retribution when addressing the young fascists, who were then still the majority, many of them veterans of the X Mas or the M Battalions.

He understood that so many of the boys who had joined the Republic of Salò had made that choice after being subjected to a 20-year ideological bombardment that went so far as to use the same Socialist slogans – “Proletarian Italy has moved” – to claim Italy’s right to have some colonies for itself. And then there was also the distorted use of “honor of the Fatherland.” I clearly remember the bewilderment of my older schoolmates, who even volunteered to join the army of Salò, even though they knew they would be defeated at that point, because they were ashamed of the way the King and Badoglio had gone over to the side of the victors on September 8.

Togliatti spoke to these youths, writing beautiful pages to help them understand. And he polemicized bitterly with the liberals who wanted to give the many houses of the GIL, the Fascist youth movement, back to the state immediately, instead of leaving them in the hands of young people so they could become places for encounters and debate.

One of the best memories I have of those years, when I was secretary of the Communist section of the University of Rome, was taking part in the dialectic process undertaken by the young people of the large Caravella group in the student “Parliament” (which brought together the students who were still fascists after the war). In a fairly short time, they learned and understood; and, apart from a few stubborn ones – such as their leader Caradonna, with whom we continued to have fights for a long time – the group soon dissolved. And many switched to the left. One of them, years later, even became a lawyer for il manifesto.

Are the nostalgic fascists like La Russa – who says he doesn’t have to be an anti-fascist because it isn’t listed in the Constitution as a duty – just a stubborn minority? I think so – they are few, albeit violent and dangerous. And yet, many people voted for Fratelli d’Italia, and we cannot escape the question: why? The motivations of the older ones seem clear enough, who stayed fascist because they were really reactionary. But we must ask one question: what made so many of those voters choose Meloni?

Can it be enough to denounce the evils of the past to make them understand? I believe it’s not enough if we fail to rise up in protest, with our actions, against the fact that democracy, in the name of which so many young partisans went to fight, has become so worn down in recent decades – marked as it is by the inequality and arrogance of the powers-that-be – that it is unable to make obvious enough the reasons why it was the bitter enemy of Fascism.

Recalling the horrors of the past – which we need to talk about, because knowing history is necessary and useful – is not enough if we don’t denounce the ugliness of today with just as much force: can we tout Western values with all that the West is doing and has done? Can we continue to solve international problems by resorting to wars? Can we stand the arrogance of those who cause them, and those who arrogate to themselves rights that are denied to others?

Can we prevent the “solution” to the declining birth rate being erasing women’s right to work, won with such great effort, if we don’t denounce the current system that has never seriously committed itself to freeing mothers from the slavery of double work, thus forcing them into the very sad choice of having to give up on something as beautiful as choosing – if one so chooses – to bring children into the world? (Why is this the price – as the data sadly shows us – that many women have to pay to become magistrates or policewomen or sales agents, in the absence of a civilized socialization of care work, which never even became a serious project?

Western democracies are certainly better than the systems that govern so much of the world, but are we unable to understand that this situation has come about because, with our colonialism, we have kept the rest of the world from undergoing the same struggles and revolutions?

I believe that the most extraordinary aspect of the Resistance of the young partisans, particularly in Italy, was not just “resisting,” as the word might suggest, but, rather, having the courage to go into the mountains without the cause of a legitimate government ousted by the Nazis, as almost everywhere else, and yet risking their lives for a democracy whose values they felt inside but never had a chance to know. Theirs was the courage to invent a new world as their goal.

In short, to effectively combat fascism, we must be able to identify how much fascism is already here, and is returning, to our societies. Otherwise, to speak only of the past will look like a convenient, and dangerous, cover.

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