R.J.B. Bosworth

Australian historian (1943-)

R. J. B. Bosworth FAHA, FASSA (born 1943) is an Australian historian and author, and a leading expert on Fascist Italy.

Quotes edit

Mussolini (2002) edit

London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2010

  • As I explore Mussolini’s personality, his power, its effects and its limitations, I became convinced that the Duce was not just the first modern dictator but also, far better than Hitler, the personage against whom to measure the very many tyrants who dominated so many countries in Europe between the wars and, in the developing world, then and thereafter. In more complex parallel, Mussolini also bore some comparison with Stalin and his later epigones in Eastern Europe, who, in apparent oxymoron ruled as national communists.
    • p. 2
  • Whereas Hitler believed fundamentally and literally in racist science, Mussolini might often sound hard-line, and certainly regularly spoke up for murder. Yet, equally, he remained capable of skepticism, cynicism, intellectual analysis, doubt, contradiction, confusion, sullen bafflement, all positions that the ‘science’ of ‘terrible simplifiers’ condemns and refutes. Whatever else he was, Mussolini was not an ‘other’, unrecognisably distinct from contemporary or even present-day politicians and executives.
    • p. 3
  • Which European politician of the first half of the twentieth century could be relied on to read the philosophical and literary works of his co-nationals and send their authors notes of criticism and congratulations? Who, at the time of profound crisis and despite his evident ill health, kept on his desk a copy of the works of Socrates and Plato, annotated in his own hand? Who declared publicly that he loved trees and anxiously quizzed his bureaucracy about storm damage to the environment? Who, in his table talk while he was entrenched in power, was fascinated by the task of tracing his intellectual antecedents?... Who seemed almost always ready to grant an interview and, having done so, was especially pleased by the prospect of talking about contemporary political and philosophical ideas? Who left more than 44 volumes of his collected works? Who claimed with an element of truth that money never dirtied his hands? Who could conduct a conversation in three languages apart from his own?... The somewhat surprising answer to all these questions is Benito Mussolini, Duce of Italian Fascism and dictator of Italy from 1922 (or 1925) to 1945 (or 1943).
    • p. 7
  • Whatever else he was, Mussolini was no Hitler impelled by a credo to act in one way and one way only.
    • p. 13
  • Mussolini was an activist and, in his own mind, a purist one, who deservedly bore the names of Cipriani and the young Costa. In his poetry, he chanted solemn obituaries for fallen comrades, summoning vengeance against their persecutors. He was a Republican; in a paper called IlProletario (The Proletarian), he ridiculed the ways of kings, urging their swift overthrow. Parliament, too, he deemed a farcical organization, which the virtuous must one day destroy. Those moderate socialists who were trying to make it work in the proletarian interest were deluding themselves.
    • p. 54
  • Mussolini was a fervent internationalist. Nevertheless, despite his Marxist orthodoxy and despite the fact that the processes of the nationalisation of the masses were feebler in Italy than in the countries to the north, a notion of Italian identity seeped into his words and actions.
    • p. 56
  • [Mussolini’s] most ambitious article for La Lima was a lengthy review of Marx on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death. Here Mussolini celebrated the father of socialism as an activist, as one who was simultaneously ‘scientific’ and realistic. Marx, he wrote with fervour, had demonstrated conclusively that ‘a class will never give up its privileges unless it is forced to do so.’ He had proven without a doubt that ‘the final struggle will be violence and “catastrophic’” because capitalists would certainly not surrender without a bitter fight.
    • p. 59
  • Mussolini was, of course, not the only dissident ever to leave a socialist party, especially during the trauma of the First World War. In many countries, the great conflict demanded that a choice be made between the ideals of internationalist socialism and those of the nation.
    • p. 89
  • As the elections were being held, he published in Gerarchla a disquisition on Machiavelli. He had, he remarked, just re-read the Florentine writer's corpus, although, he added modestly, he had not fully plumbed the secondary literature in Italy and abroad. Machiavelli's thought was, Mussolini announced, more alive now than ever. His pessimism about human nature was eternal in its acuity. Individuals simply could not be relied on voluntarily to 'obey the law, pay their taxes and serve in war'. No well-ordered society could want the people to be sovereign. Machiavelli’s cynical acumen exposed the fatuity of the dreams of the Enlightenment (and of Mussolini’s own political philosophy before 1914).
    • p. 157
  • A historian tabulated 16 rival groups who, earlier in 1919, had been using the word fascio to describe themselves. Ranging from anarchists to restless bourgeois university students, these ‘fascists’ had nothing in common except their name.
    • p. 112
  • On 4 July [1938] before an audience at the ‘new town’ of Aprilia, [Mussolini] excoriated what he rudely called ‘the great demoplutocracies’; they were, he added flatly, the ‘enemies of Italy’. The new tone of exasperation in his words worried members of the Italian establishment, but Mussolini, taking his temerity one step further, now told Ciano (of all people) that the ‘defeatist’ bourgeoisie needed to be brought into line by a ‘third wave’ of Fascism.
    • p. 274

Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945 (2005) edit

New York, NY, Penguin Press, 2006

  • In 1914, by almost every index, Italy was the least of the great powers. Nor, despite huffing and puffing about imperial conquest and racial prowess, would that ranking be much altered during the Fascist years.
    • p. 37
  • At the next socialist party congress, held in July 1912 at Reggio Emilia, the PSI again split, the most vehement attacks on the three moderates coming from the young ‘maximalist’ or radical, Benito Mussolini, who soon took over the editorship of the party’s paper Avanti! from Claudio Treves, another reformist, and, later, for good measure, fought a duel against him.
    • p 47
  • In June 1914 the newshound Mussolini was to the fore in playing up the social disturbances known as ‘Red Week’, at the peak of which revolutionaries, stirred up by the socialist conference at Ancona in April, attempted full-scale insurrection. As a historian of Liberal Italy portrayed it evocatively: ‘Local dictators proclaimed republics, the red flag was hoisted above town halls, taxes were abolished and prices reduced by decree, churches were attacked… landlords’ villas sacked, troops disarmed and even a general captured.
    • p. 52
  • In this conflict [Red Week], Mussolini for the moment stood on the other side of the barricades; on 10 June, destined to be a redolent date in Fascist history, he urged: ‘We must take up again our anti-militarist propaganda to ensure that bayonets are only raised when we [socialists] want them to be… Our propaganda must break into the barracks, where currently the sons of the people are taught how to kill their own brothers.’
    • p. 53
  • As Archduke Franz Ferdinand made his way to Sarjevo, Mussolini remained an extreme socialist, committed to pulling down the Liberal order in the interests of world-spanning revolution. The outbreak of the war did not at first alter that situation. However, by September 1914, the attachment of the editor of Avanti! to the official line of neutralism was crumbling. In October, Mussolini broke from the [Socialist] party, proclaiming that, although still a believing socialist, he was certain that the cause of social overturn could be better hurried by war than by Italy remaining at peace. Mussolini thus joined the ranks of the interventionists, a motley crew in terms of political background, although the great majority nourished a deep belief in their intellectuality and self-importance.
    • p. 53
  • In 1919 a nationalist general concluded bitterly that, when confronted by the ‘test of war’, Italy had demonstrated that ‘no one governed it.’
    • p. 67
  • In 1918 [Mussolini] had coined the slogan: ‘the man who never changes his mind… is a blockhead’… None the less, this early Fascism did often sound radical, even ‘socialist’, in everything except its foreign policy and reading of contemporary history (both in Italy and in Russia). In June of 1919, for example, the fasci maintained that they wanted the voting age lowered to eighteen (Mussolini had frequently talked about youth bringing zest to anything Fascists might do)… Other initial fasci aims were the institution of an eight-hour day, minimum pay, participatory democracy on the factory floor and improved state insurance for workers. Landowners should be obligated to cultivate their land and any fields that were not utilized productively should be handed over to peasant cooperatives, with a preference for those run by returned soldiers… The fasci favoured progressive tax and the punitive review of war contracts and profits, as well as the seizure of the goods held by religious houses.
    • p. 118
  • If ever a word was in the air, then in Italy around the time of the First World War, it was ‘Fascist.’ Fascista, Fascismo, Fascio: each turned up on numerous occasions and in diverse settings. Doctor deputies, endeavouring to be a pressure group, formed themselves into a Fascio Medico Parlamentare as early as 1906.
    • p. 121
  • The fasces pledged national unity above all; each of the sticks represented a sector of society, organically bound into the corporate system. No class, gender, regional or other form of division could weaken a Fascist state, locked together as it was, a proletarian nation, needing to end subjugation by the plutocratic, established, great powers, in a Darwinian struggle of the national fittest; one Italian people, one Fascist state, one Duce at the head.
    • p. 122
  • Bolshevism [Mussolini] knew, was not really a Jewish phenomenon and the manifestations of anti-Semitism in current-day Hungary could not be applauded. Yet, he reckoned, such responses should not astonish. Even in Italy, where ‘anti-Semitism is unknown and we believe will never be known’, Zionism was a troubling development. It was to be hoped that ‘Italian Jews continue to be smart enough not to encourage anti-Semitism in the only country where it had never been.’
    • p. 147
  • To the dismay of some ras, Mussolini suddenly announced that he wished to frame a deal with those socialists who might be willing to treat, especially with their trade unionist wing, end the social war burning through the countryside and, by implication, look to the formation of a grand coalition of new mass parties and organizations in order to overthrow the liberal system, be it embodied in parliament in Rome or in the institutions of civil society.
    • p. 172
  • Mussolini exhibited a cynical skill at rewarding his enemies and rebuking his friends.
    • p. 175
  • Whereas once the movement had flirted with feminism, now Mussolini required that female organizations focus on charity, ‘to the exclusion of any political action which must be left exclusively to the party.
    • p. 176
  • Syndicalist A.O. Olivetti maintained, the Fascist state had invented the economic system surpassing both socialism and liberalism. Its first clause ran: ‘the Italian nation is an organism having a purpose, life and means of action superior to those of any individual or groups who are part of it.’
    • p. 227
  • Other, mostly richer Italians dealt with the meaning of life under the dictatorship in a more straightforward manner. What might be termed their everyday Mussolinism was, however, scarcely based on a literal application of Fascist totalitarianism. When their actions are reviewed carefully, it becomes plain that they by no means reliably believed, obeyed or fought, despite the regime slogan–credere, obbedire, combattere–insisting that they should.
    • p. 249
  • Fascism, with its habitual use of the language of aggression—not for nothing did Mussolini regularly rejoice in his own savagery, seeing himself as a cat who walked by itself at night ready to scratch, claw and kill—deeply tinctured such thoughts and assumptions. Yet Fascism did not by itself create its bleakly Darwinian view of the functioning of the international system.
    • p. 299
  • When the national transport system was tested a few years later by the Second World War, the Fascist railways showed little advance on the Liberal ones and the transport of goods, especially south of Rome, remained a serendipitous affair.
    • p. 439
  • The regime may have hoped that its land reclamation policies would attract the greatest acclaim but plenty of other public works figured into Fascist policy and propaganda. The national railway system was a cherished part of the project of bonding Italians, all the more because Farinacci had been prominent in pushing railwaymen early into a Fascist union.
    • p. 439

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