Italian Fascism and racism

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Fascist Italy was not officially racist, unlike its World War II Axis partner Nazi Germany. Italy's Fascist Party leader, Benito Mussolini, expressed different views on the importance of race in the course of his career: at times he spoke of alarm about the possible extinction of “white people”, while at other times he denied the theory of race.[citation needed] By 1938 Mussolini supported racism, as evidenced by his endorsement of the "Manifesto of Race", the seventh point of which states that "it is time that Italians proclaim themselves to be openly racist",[1] with racial persecution intensifying and becoming an increasingly important hallmark of Fascist ideology.[2]


Male inmate at the Rab concentration camp.

In the 1920s, Italian fascists targeted Yugoslavs, especially Serbs. They accused Serbs of having "atavistic impulses" and they claimed that the Yugoslavs were conspiring together on behalf of "Grand Orient masonry and its funds". One anti-Semitic claim was that Serbs were part of a "social-democratic, masonic Jewish internationalist plot".[3]

Benito Mussolini considered the Slavic race inferior and barbaric.[4] He identified the Yugoslavs (Croats) as a threat to Italy and viewed them as competitors over the region of Dalmatia, which was claimed by Italy, and claimed that the threat rallied Italians together at the end of World War I: "The danger of seeing the Jugo-Slavians settle along the whole Adriatic shore had caused a bringing together in Rome of the cream of our unhappy regions. Students, professors, workmen, citizens—representative men—were entreating the ministers and the professional politicians".[5]

In September 1920, Benito Mussolini stated:

When dealing with such a race as Slavic - inferior and barbarian - we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy.... We should not be afraid of new victims.... The Italian border should run across the Brenner Pass, Monte Nevoso and the Dinaric Alps.... I would say we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians....

— Benito Mussolini, speech held in Pula, 20 September 1920[6][7]

As noted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Mussolini's government, Galeazzo Ciano, when describing a meeting with the secretary general of the Fascist party who wanted an Italian army to kill all Slovenes:

(...) I took the liberty of saying they (the Slovenes) totaled one million. It doesn't matter - he replied firmly - we should model ourselves upon ascari (auxiliary Eritrean troops infamous for their cruelty) and wipe them out".[8]

The Province of Ljubljana saw the deportation of 25,000 people, which equaled 7.5% of its total population. The operation, one of the most drastic in Europe, filled up Italian concentration camps on the island of Rab, in Gonars, Monigo (Treviso), Renicci d'Anghiari, Chiesanuova as well as other concentration camps that were located elsewhere.

Child inmates at the Rab concentration camp.

Mario Roatta's "Circular 3C" (Circolare 3C), tantamount to a declaration of war on the Slovene civilian population, involved him in war crimes while he was the commander of the 2nd Army in the Province of Ljubljana.[9]

In 1942, the Italians put the barbed wire fence (which is now the Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship) around Ljubljana in order to prevent communication between the Liberation Front in the city and the partisans in the surrounding countryside.[10]

On 25 February 1942, only two days after the Italian Fascist regime established the Gonars concentration camp the first transport of 5,343 internees (1,643 of whom were children) arrived at the Rab concentration camp which was already overpopulated at the time, from the Province of Ljubljana itself as well as another Italian concentration camp in Monigo (near Treviso).

The Italian violence against the Slovene civilian population easily matched the German violence against Serbs,[11] with frequent summary executions of Slovenes committed on the orders of Mussolini and other Fascist officials.[12] For every major military operation, General M. Roatta issued additional special instructions, including one that the orders must be "carried out most energetically and without any false compassion".[13]

One of Roatta's soldiers wrote home on 1 July 1942: "We have destroyed everything from top to bottom without sparing the innocent. We kill entire families every night, beating them to death or shooting them."[14]

After the war Roatta was on a list of the most wanted Italian war criminals who were indicted by Yugoslavia and other countries, but Italy never saw anything like the Nuremberg trials because at the beginning of the Cold War, the British government believed that Pietro Badoglio, who was also on the list, would guarantee the existence of an anti-communist post-war Italy.[15][16]


In a 1919 speech denouncing Soviet Russia, Mussolini claimed that Jewish bankers in London and New York City were bound by the chains of race to Moscow and that 80% of the Soviet leaders were Jews, endorsing the Jewish Bolshevism canard.[17]

At the 1934 Fascist International Congress, the issue of antisemitism was debated amongst various fascist parties, with some being more favourable to it, and others being less favourable. Two final compromises were adopted, resulting in the official stance of the Fascist International:

"[T]he Jewish question cannot be converted into a universal campaign of hatred against the Jews [...] Considering that in many places certain groups of Jews are installed in conquered countries, exercising in an open and occult manner an influence injurious to the material and moral interests of the country which harbors them, constituting a sort of state within a state, profiting by all benefits and refusing all duties, considering that they have furnished and are inclined to furnish, elements conducive to international revolution which would be destructive to the idea of patriotism and Christian civilization, the Conference denounces the nefarious action of these elements and is ready to combat them."[18]

The Manifesto of Race which was published on 14 July 1938, paved the way for the enactment of racial laws. The Italian racial laws were passed on 18 November 1938, excluding Jews from the civil service, the armed forces, and the National Fascist Party, and restricting Jewish ownership of certain companies and property; intermarriage was also prohibited.[19] While some scholars argue this was an attempt by Mussolini to curry favour with Adolf Hitler, who increasingly became an ally of Mussolini in the late 1930s and is speculated to have pressured Mussolini to increase persecution of Jews,[20] others have argued that it reflected sentiments long entrenched not just in Fascist political philosophy but also in the teachings of the post-Tridentine Catholic Church, which remained a powerful cultural force in Mussolini's Italy,[21] representing a uniquely Italian flavour of anti-Semitism[22] in which Jews were seen as an obstacle to Fascist transformation of society due to being bound to what Mussolini saw as decadent liberal states.[23]

Il Tevere, a prominent Fascist newspaper founded by Mussolini and directed by Teresio Interlandi, frequently promoted anti-Semitism and railed against the perceived threat of "international Jewry". It became a frequent source of praise for Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic policies until its disbandment after Mussolini's fall from power on 25 July 1943.[24]

Other groups[edit]

In a 1921 speech in Bologna, Mussolini stated, "Fascism was born... out of a profound, perennial need of this our Aryan race".[17] Mussolini was concerned about the low birth rate of the white race in contrast to the higher birth rates of the African and Asian races. In 1928 he noted the high birth-rate of blacks in the United States, and stated that they had surpassed the population of whites in certain areas, such as Harlem in New York City. He described their greater racial consciousness in contrast to that of American whites as contributing to their growing strength.[25]

On the issue of the low birth rate of whites, Mussolini said in 1928: "[When the] city dies, the nation – deprived of the young life-blood of new generations – is now made up of people who are old and degenerate and cannot defend itself against a younger people which launches an attack on the now unguarded frontiers [...] This will happen, and not just to cities and nations, but on an infinitely greater scale: the whole White race, the Western race can be submerged by other coloured races which are multiplying at a rate unknown in our race."[26]

During the Great Depression Mussolini again expressed his alarm about the low birth rate among whites, saying "The singular, enormous problem is the destiny of the white race. Europe is truly towards the end of its destiny as the leader of civilization."[25] He went on to say that under the circumstances, "the white race is sickly", "morally and physically in ruin", and that, in combination with the "progress in numbers and in expansion of yellow and black races, the civilization of the white man is destined to perish."[25] According to Mussolini, only through promoting natality and eugenics could this be reversed.[25]

In 1933, Mussolini contradicted his earlier statements on race, saying, "Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today. ... National pride has no need of the delirium of race."[27]

During and after the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, thousands of Italian settlers flooded into Italian East Africa, prompting Mussolini to implement a variety of racist laws designed to showcase his vision of an ideal Fascist society. These were unique in their extent and comprehensiveness at attempting to enforce white supremacy even relative to other European colonies, which generally maintained much more informal systems of racial segregation. Mussolini took a vested interest in micromanaging these regulations, at one point reading a report of a non-commissioned officer playing cards with a native Eritrean and angrily telegraphing the governor of Eritrea to complain about the incident and demanding stricter enforcement of racial segregation. Enforcement of these laws was very difficult for local authorities, however, in part due to the impermanent presence of many Italians in the colony, who had no plans to stay in East Africa in the long term and only briefly resided there for financial opportunities. As such, many Italian settlers ignored these laws due to a variety of factors; some Italians saw short-term economic gain in violating laws restricting personal and commercial relations between settlers and Africans, while others simply did not share Mussolini's racism and prejudice.[28]


  1. ^ "The Manifesto of Race" (PDF). 1938. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  2. ^ Goeschel, Christian (March 2017). "Staging Friendship: Mussolini and Hitler in Germany in 1937". The Historical Journal. 60 (1): 149–172. doi:10.1017/S0018246X15000540.
  3. ^ Burgwyn, H. James. Italian foreign policy in the interwar period, 1918-1940. p. 43. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997.
  4. ^ Sestani, Armando, ed. (10 February 2012). "Il confine orientale: una terra, molti esodi" [The Eastern Border: One Land, Multiple Exoduses]. I profugi istriani, dalmati e fiumani a Lucca [The Istrian, Dalmatian and Rijeka Refugees in Lucca] (PDF) (in Italian). Instituto storico della Resistenca e dell'Età Contemporanea in Provincia di Lucca. pp. 12–13. When dealing with such a race as Slavic - inferior and barbarian - we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy. We should not be afraid of new victims. The Italian border should run across the Brenner Pass, Monte Nevoso and the Dinaric Alps. I would say we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians.
  5. ^ Benito Mussolini, Richard Washburn Child, Max Ascoli, Richard Lamb. My rise and fall. Da Capo Press, 1998. pp. 105-106.
  6. ^ Sestani, Armando, ed. (10 February 2012). "Il confine orientale: una terra, molti esodi" [The Eastern Border: One Land, Multiple Exoduses]. I profugi istriani, dalmati e fiumani a Lucca [The Istrian, Dalmatian and Rijeka Refugees in Lucca] (PDF) (in Italian). Instituto storico della Resistenca e dell'Età Contemporanea in Provincia di Lucca. pp. 12–13.
  7. ^ Pirjevec, Jože (2008). "The Strategy of the Occupiers" (PDF). Resistance, Suffering, Hope: The Slovene Partisan Movement 1941–1945. p. 27. ISBN 978-961-6681-02-5.
  8. ^ The Ciano Diaries 1939–1943: The Complete, Unabridged Diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1936–1943 (2000) ISBN 1-931313-74-1
  9. ^ James H. Burgwyn: "General Roatta's war against the partisans in Yugoslavia: 1942", Journal of Modern Italian Studies, Volume 9, Number 3, September 2004, pp. 314-329(16), link by IngentaConnect
  10. ^ Vurnik, Blaž (22 April 2016). "Kabinet čudes: Ljubljana v žičnem obroču" [Cabinet of Curiosities: Ljubljana in the Barbed Wire Ring]. (in Slovenian).
  11. ^ Ballinger, P. (2002). History in exile: memory and identity at the borders of the Balkans. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691086974
  12. ^ Michael R. Ebner (1 December 2014). "Amedeo Osti Guerrazzi. The Italian Army in Slovenia: Strategies of Antipartisan Repression, 1941–1943". The American Historical Review. 119 (5): 1798–1799. doi:10.1093/ahr/119.5.1798.
  13. ^ Giuseppe Piemontese (1946): Twenty-nine months of Italian occupation of the Province of Ljubljana. Page 10.
  14. ^ James Walston, a historian at the American University of Rome. Quoted in Rory, Carroll. Italy's bloody secret. The Guardian. (Archived by WebCite®), The Guardian, London, UK, 25 June 2003
  15. ^ Effie G. H. Pedaliu (2004) Britain and the 'Hand-over' of Italian War Criminals to Yugoslavia, 1945-48. Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 39, No. 4, Special Issue: Collective Memory, pp. 503-529 ( preview)
  16. ^ Rory, Carroll. Italy's bloody secret. The Guardian. (Archived by WebCite®), The Guardian, London, UK, 25 June 2003
  17. ^ a b Neocleous, Mark. Fascism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. p. 35.
  18. ^ "Pax Romanizing". TIME Magazine, 31 December 1934.
  19. ^ John Morley, Vatican diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust, 1939-1943, p.167
  20. ^ Bernardini, Gene (1977). "The Origins and Development of Racial Anti-Semitism in Fascist Italy". The Journal of Modern History. 49 (3): 431–453. doi:10.1086/241596.
  21. ^ Robinson, E. M. (1988). "Race as a Factor in Mussolini's Policy in Africa and Europe". Journal of Contemporary History. 23 (1): 37–58. doi:10.1177/002200948802300103.
  22. ^ Goeschel, Christian (2012). "Italia docet? The Relationship between Italian Fascism and Nazism Revisited". European History Quarterly. 42 (3): 480–492. doi:10.1177/0265691412448167. hdl:1885/59166.
  23. ^ Adler, Franklin Hugh (2005). "Why Mussolini turned on the Jews". Patterns of Prejudice. 39 (3): 285–300. doi:10.1080/00313220500198235.
  24. ^ Michaelis, Meir (1998). "Mussolini's unofficial mouthpiece: Telesio Interlandi ‐ Il Tevere and the evolution of Mussolini's anti‐Semitism". Journal of Modern Italian Studies. 3 (3): 217–240. doi:10.1080/13545719808454979.
  25. ^ a b c d Aaron Gillette. Racial theories in fascist Italy. London; New York. p. 43.
  26. ^ Griffin, Roger (ed.). Fascism. Oxford University Press. September 1995. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-19-289249-2.
  27. ^ Montagu, Ashley (1997). Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 0-8039-4648-1.
  28. ^ Barrera, Giulia (2003). "Mussolini's colonial race laws and state-settler relations in Africa Orientale Italiana (1935-41)". Journal of Modern Italian Studies. 8 (3): 425–443. doi:10.1080/09585170320000113770.