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Anti-fascism needs to be refounded, says author of series on Mussolini


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Antonio Scurati, 53, began research almost ten years ago for a series of documentary novels on Italian fascism, inaugurated a hundred years ago by Benito Mussolini. Since then, the world scenario has been completely transformed, with the rise of national-populist ultra-right parties and characters through democratic rules.

A few days after the release of the third volume of the series, the movement reached its peak in Italy, with the victory of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy — a leader who began his political life in a party launched in 1946 by members of the fascist dictatorship.

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“Everything has been normalized, it doesn’t cause more scandal”, he says, about the period between the first and the most recent book. “Italy will once again be a political laboratory, a kind of vanguard of the rearguard.”

Translated in 40 countries and read by 1 million people, the series is resumed with “M – The Last Days of Europe”, which runs from 1938 to 1940, the period of Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany, the adoption of racial laws and country’s entry into World War II. In Italy, the book tops the bestseller list; in Brazil, the first two volumes were released by the publisher Intrinseca.

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THE Sheet Scurati comments on the similarities and differences between fascism and populism today and defends the refoundation of anti-fascism. “He must not be under the banners of the left at all.”

Why did you feel it necessary to include a warning, at the beginning of the book, about historical facts that might seem far-fetched? In all three books, we put the disclaimer that all facts, characters and dialogue are historically proven. But, in this volume, I wanted to reinforce that, due to our lack of knowledge of what fascism was and the fact that we did not settle accounts until the end with our history, certain aspects of the unfortunate decision that led Mussolini to ally himself with Hitler and to unleash World War II might seem implausible, an invention of the writer. But they are not.

What are these moments? The fact that Mussolini was fully aware of Italy’s total military unpreparedness. That he was able to clearly see the demonic trait of Nazism, but that he had gone ahead because he thought it was more convenient. And that, although anti-Semitism does not represent an ideological pillar of fascism, it decides to sacrifice Italian Jews, in a despicable calculation.

On the one hand, Mussolini realizes that he is accompanied by an uncontrollable ally in his obsession with conquest. But on the other hand, he is a victim of self-deception. He continues to believe he owns the game, which maneuvers Hitler and not the other way around. The Italian people do not want war, much less on the side of the Nazis. Between the unpleasant and complex reality and the image he has of himself, he chooses the latter.

Are today’s populist politicians also afflicted by this self-deception? Yes, in the sense that, between reality with its complexities and false rhetorical solutions, they always choose the latter. It is a trait of the populist, who reduces politics to communication, by proclaiming things like “we will build a wall”, “we will close the ports”, circumventing the real confrontation with inextricable problems. Almost a psychotic denial.

In the third book, Mr. writes of Mussolini’s own fears. What did he fear? Fear is the underlying sentiment of fascism, the political passion on which Mussolini builds his power and something that reappears in the link with Nazism. Mussolini is afraid of Hitler that, after invading Austria in 1938, he will go down to Italy and betray him — which in fact happened years later.

Fear is another link with the populist right of today? Certainly. Mussolini came from the Italian Socialist Party, whose symbol was the rising sun that represented the future. When he is expelled, he realizes that there is a single passion more powerful than hope: the fear of the hope of others. In that case, the socialist revolution. And he bets everything on feeding the fear. Then he turns fear into hate, a passive feeling into an active one. Fascist populism reduces all the complexity of real problems into a single enemy, a brutal simplification. A hundred years ago, it was socialism. Today, it can be the immigrant.

The book chronicles crucial moments before the Second World War. What comparisons can be made with the War of Ukraine? The kind of power that Vladimir Putin installed in Russia, with this police state, the need to support his power in neo-imperialist rhetoric, is very reminiscent of imperfect totalitarianism based on a personal dictatorship of Mussolini. And expansionism resembles, at times with frightening symmetries, that of Hitler. The use of weapons to defend a minority of the same language that is across borders and is allegedly being persecuted. So it was with Hitler in Austria, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland, and it has been so with Putin in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine.

Soon the March on Rome will be 100 years old. Is there any trace of this coupism left in today’s far right? Unlike a hundred years, these politicians come to power moving within the rules of the democratic game, albeit despising them. This kind of alarm is not only unwarranted, it distracts us from the real danger, which is not a suppression of democracy, but its qualitative deterioration, which has been underway for many years.

Since mr. began your research for the series, what has changed about the radical right? I started around 2013. Italy had a Matteo Renzi [premiê entre 2014 e 2016] triumphant. What has changed? Everything has been normalized, no more scandal. Italy will once again be a political laboratory for what will happen elsewhere, a kind of vanguard of the rear, as it was with Silvio Berlusconi, in the 1990s, and with Matteo Salvini.

There are two levels of normalization. The moral, with the fact that a ruling class that still shows sympathies for fascism can govern. And the political, with the consequences of decisions that this right —objectively reactionary— generates.

How do you see the use of the triad “God, country and family” by Meloni and, in Brazil, by Jair Bolsonaro? I find it shocking that in 2022 such a slogan could exist. This is what clearly demonstrates that this is a reactionary political culture. This motto comes from the thought of Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the fathers of Italian unification. In its conception, it assumes a meaning of emancipation. Today, two centuries later, it means proposing a perspective of returning to a society in which the father takes his authority from the father of the country, who receives it directly from God. It means that there is only one God, one country and one type of family. A slogan widely used by Mussolini during 20 years of fascism.

How do you see the attempt by opposition forces to this ultra-right, not only in Italy, to link these politicians to fascism? In an election campaign, can this take away votes? No, precisely because the thing was normalized. The moral question disappeared, with the eclipse of anti-fascism throughout the 20th century, that movement that put as a prerogative the fact that, if you want to be part of civil society or politics, you have to declare yourself anti-fascist. I placed Mussolini as the protagonist because I felt he should contribute to renewing anti-fascism on non-ideological bases.

Anti-fascism has been used so often in recent decades — often instrumentally by people, including political leaders, who were not the best qualified for it — that it has become an empty word. My project is part of the vision that anti-fascism must be refounded on new foundations. It must not be under the banners of the left at all. It must be a new consciousness, civil and civic, of all democrats, which is a very broad field. It means reaffirming the ethical, political and economic superiority of full, liberal democracy. The Black Shirts will not return, we are facing defenders of an authoritarian democracy.

X-ray | Antonio Scurati, 53

Born in Naples, he has already won the Strega Prize, the most important in Italian literature. Professor of contemporary literature at the University of Communication and Languages ​​in Milan, he is also a columnist for the newspaper La Stampa and an essayist.

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