Congress of Verona (1943)
The Congress of Verona in November 1943 was the only congress of the Italian Republican Fascist Party, the successor of the National Fascist Party. At the time, the Republican Fascist Party was nominally in charge of the Salò Republic, a small fascist state set up in Northern Italy after the Allies entered Rome. The Salò Republic was in fact a German puppet state and most of its internal and external policies were dictated by German military commanders. Nevertheless, Italian fascists were allowed to keep the trappings of sovereignty. It was under these conditions that they organized the Congress of Verona, ostensibly for the purpose of charting a new political course and rejuvenating the Italian fascist movement.
Proposals made at the Congress
The Congress produced several statements, proposals and decisions, most of which were never implemented due to the ongoing war and the German occupation. According to historian Peter Neville, the fascist delegates at the congress were well aware of their lack of any real political power, so they made intentionally unrealistic or dishonest promises, knowing that they would never have to carry them out. Significantly, Benito Mussolini, the founder and leader of Italian Fascism, was not present at the congress. He only sent a letter to the delegates, which was read as part of the opening ceremony.
Of the decisions made at the Congress of Verona, the most important, which made the greatest practical impact, was the transformation of Italian fascism into a republican movement, after it had supported the monarchy of King Victor Emmanuel III for 21 years. The decision was motivated by the fact that the king had arrested Mussolini and made peace with the Allies just months before the congress; in fact, it was that action that forced the fascists to flee to Northern Italy and try to set up a new state there. The king was therefore a traitor in their eyes.
The Congress of Verona also made a series of sweeping promises that represented an almost total departure from previous fascist policy. It promised to introduce a democratic government elected on the basis of popular sovereignty, to convene a Constituent Assembly that would draft a new constitution, to allow freedom of the press, to create an independent judiciary that would investigate corruption and abuses under the previous fascist government, to hand over uncultivated land to poor farmers, to bring some key industries under state ownership and to institute profit sharing in many other private industries. These latter economic policies were meant to represent a "Third Position" between capitalist plutocracy and Marxist socialism.
However, none of these promises was kept. The head of state remained unelected, the Constituent Assembly never met, free speech continued to be restricted as before, and a Special Tribunal was set up to convict enemies of fascism rather than investigate government corruption. The proposed "third way" also failed to materialize. In key industries private shareholders still played a central role, workers' rights were severely limited, and trade unions had no power.
Historians disagree about the purpose of the promises made at Verona. One theory is that the Republican Fascist Party was intentionally trying to show confusion about its policies and objectives; by then, there was a strong backlash in central and southern Italy against anything associated with fascism, and the fascists in the north could try to direct popular anger in the south against an idea or policy merely by associating themselves with that idea or policy.
- Neville, p. 189.
- Neville, p. 188.
- Neville, pp. 188-189.
- Neville, p. 190.
- Peter Neville, Mussolini. Routledge Historical Biographies, 2003. ISBN 9780415249904