Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Illiberal fascism

Benito Mussolini is a vital figure in Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, because among the fascist dictators, he's easiest to peg as someone with vaguely "left" roots (as a worker-agitator) and who enjoyed some general popularity in the 1920s. But now we know that way back in 1917, MI5 knew exactly what they were dealing with -- a demagogue who liked war and who liked the idea of bashing strikers and/or pacifists over the head:

Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5.

For the British intelligence agency, it must have seemed like a good investment. Mussolini, then a 34-year-old journalist, was not just willing to ensure Italy continued to fight alongside the allies in the first world war by publishing propaganda in his paper. He was also willing to send in the boys to "persuade'' peace protesters to stay at home.

Mussolini's payments were authorised by Sir Samuel Hoare, an MP and MI5's man in Rome, who ran a staff of 100 British intelligence officers in Italy at the time.

Cambridge historian Peter Martland, who discovered details of the deal struck with the future dictator, said: "Britain's least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia's pullout from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6,000 a week today."

If being a pro-war reactionary fond of physical force violence is not an essential characteristic of being Fascist, it's not clear what is. It is possible though that Benito liked fresh mozzarella, which may make him a liberal Fascist.

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