Review: The rise of the far right in Italy

by Luca Tavan • Published 30 October 2023

David Broder, Mussolini’s Grandchildren: Fascism in Contemporary Italy, Pluto Press, 2023.

The Italian general election at the end of 2022 was a historic win for the far right. A coalition of the three major right-wing parties won 44 percent of the vote, enough in Italy’s byzantine electoral system to form a clear majority in both houses of parliament. Most importantly, it was driven by the meteoric rise of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, Fd’I), a party rooted in the post-Mussolini fascist tradition, which secured 26 percent of the vote, making it the single largest party in parliament. Meloni was able to form a government in coalition with the far right Lega and Forza Italia, the party of recently deceased and infamously corrupt media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

Mussolini’s Grandchildren: Fascism in Contemporary Italy, by left-wing journalist and historian David Broder, details the history of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, and its predecessor parties.

Giorgia Meloni entered politics as a teenager, joining the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in the 1990s. A 1996 French TV program interviewed the 19-year-old, who told them: “I think Mussolini was a good politician. He did what he did for Italy. There haven’t been other politicians like him these last fifty years” (p.101). At this time, the MSI was still led by ageing cadres of Mussolini’s Salo Republic, who had fought alongside the Nazis in the last days of World War Two and had never renounced the dictatorship they had served.

Meloni launched Fratelli d’Italia in 2012, alongside other MSI leaders, as a continuation of that tradition, symbolised by their adoption of the old MSI insignia, the tricolore flame. In her memoir, she writes of the moment Fd’I moved into the old MSI headquarters in Rome:

I remain silent, and suddenly I realise the enormous responsibility I have taken on. I picked up the baton of a seventy-year-long history, I carried on my shoulders the dreams and hopes of a people who found themselves without a party, who had risked going astray. It’s as if those millions of people are still here, all those fighting with me today and those who are no longer here. As if they were looking at me, silently asking, “are you up to the task”. (p.48)

Some elements of Meloni’s reputation were barriers to her acceptance among the European political establishment – but not her celebration of fascist dictators or threats to expel migrants. The ruling class feared only that Meloni might not adhere to the “two A’s” necessary to enter the European club – “Atlanticism and austerity” as Benoît Bréville put it in an article for Le Monde diplomatique.[1] On the campaign trail, Fratelli candidates were far more frequently interrogated about these positions than about the party’s fascist heritage or reactionary social positions.

Since reaching office Meloni has shown her commitment to NATO and demanded further sanctions on Russia, while preparing an austerity budget and slashing welfare spending. This was clearly enough to win over European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, once a sceptic and now a cheerleader for Fratelli. After an initially icy reception from Emanuel Macron at the end of 2022, the pair now pose for photos outside the Élysée Palace.

Nearly a year since Fratelli’s election, there are many projecting Italy’s government as a model for the right. Alexander Downer, foreign minister for 12 years under Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, was starstruck upon meeting Meloni recently in London. “As things stand Meloni has the potential to become the European Union’s most significant leader.” He notes the shift in the political climate which has allowed Meloni to play a role:

Europe outside the UK is gradually drifting to the right. Already conservatives are entrenched in Hungary and Poland. The Dutch government is a longstanding centre-right coalition which is now under attack from a new right-wing farmers’ movement. Sweden and Finland have both recently ousted left-wing governments.[2]

Barriers that once separated the traditional centre-right and far right are collapsing. As mainstream conservative forces like the British Tories, US Republicans and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz radicalise to the right, and fascist outfits have succeeded in making breakthroughs by promoting themselves as part of the mainstream, how do we understand Fratelli d’Italia? Are they still fascists, and what does it mean for them to be in a position to form governments and shape the political landscape?

In tracing the lineage of Fd’I back to the postwar MSI and attempting to explain the tradition’s long march from the margins of politics to the halls of power, Mussolini’s Grandchildren gives valuable insights into the meaning of Meloni’s government. The history it provides shows that the Italian fascists never went away, and that the process of normalisation and incorporation into the political system goes back decades. Italian fascists had many accomplices – from street-fighting hooligans, to conservative intellectuals, to prime ministers, media magnates and bourgeois historians. This review will summarise the most valuable arguments of Broder’s book, address a few of its limitations, and then attempt to draw some conclusions from the first period of Meloni’s government.

Meloni’s progenitors: “Fascists in a democracy”

Chapter 3 explains how the MSI was founded at the end of 1946 by stalwarts of the fallen Salo Republic, defined by leader Giorgio Almirante as a party of “fascists in a democracy”. Italian fascism emerged from the ruins of World War Two battered and bloodied, but not vanquished. They struggled to find a place in the postwar Italian Republic, which was shaped by the collective memory of the resistance, while maintaining the continuity of their fascist tradition.

Under new leader Augusto de Marsanich from 1950, the MSI pursued a “strategy of insertion”, attempting to build themselves as a credible anti-Communist ally of the ruling Christian Democracy (DC). This meant a revision of some deeply held positions – fascists who had just years ago fought militarily against the Allied invasion of Italy now endorsed the NATO alliance and oriented toward Washington in the name of fighting the red menace. Centre-right Christian Democrats, who governed Italy alongside various junior coalition partners from the late 1940s to the early 1990s, accepted the fascists as a legitimate party. Yet the MSI were never able to be incorporated into government. This was most dramatically expressed in 1960, when a new DC-led government under Fernando Tambroni became reliant on MSI votes to secure a majority, breaking the established pattern of excluding the party from power. When it was announced that the MSI would hold their national conference in Genoa, a mass demonstration and general strike of semi-insurrectionary proportions took place, toppling the government and reimposing the MSI’s isolation. So it was not the establishment who ensured the MSI were kept to the parliamentary margins – it was the workers’ movement and the left.

In 1969, amid the political polarisation created by the militant struggles of the “hot autumn”,[3] the more radical Almirante took over the leadership, bringing neo-fascist groups that had abandoned the party back into the fold. Broder points out that the MSI pursued a two-track strategy, emphasising law and order and respect for democratic institutions in public, while keeping open lines of communication with explicitly anti-democratic forces. Almirante himself described this approach as combining “the cudgel and the double-breasted suit”.

In the early 1970s, in response to militant social struggle, sections of the state adopted the “strategy of tension”, collaborating with small fascist terrorist organisations to carry out attacks which could be pinned on the left to justify repression. The most notorious of these, the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, was orchestrated by Ordine Nuovo, the group led by former MSI member Pino Rauti. While denouncing political violence in public, Almirante allegedly told MSI youth activists that their party and the terrorist organisations fought “the same battle in different trenches” (p.70). In Milan’s Piazza San Babila, MSI activists mixed with the alphabet soup of small, clandestine fascist organisations. Most shockingly, Broder recounts how the investigation into one right-wing terror attack – a fascist car-bombing in Friuli in 1972 which killed three – directly implicated Almirante as a collaborator, although parliamentary immunity meant that he never faced charges.

Broder’s history is an important contribution towards understanding the dynamism of far-right organisation. Through an Italian prism, Broder unveils the long history of political and personal entwinement between “respectable” far-right politicians and “extra-parliamentary” fascist thugs. It is commonplace today for commentators to attempt to draw strict lines of demarcation between the acceptable “electoral” far right who respect democratic institutions, and explicitly anti-democratic fascists who long for totalitarian rule.

This is also accepted by many on the left today. A recent article by US socialist Charlie Post makes a version of this argument: urging a distinction between “right-wing populism” which “relies primarily on electoral politics”, and “fascism…a social movement that recruits members and builds power through violence and terror”.[4] The problem with this argument is that it is well nigh impossible to clearly demarcate which forces on the far right will, as Post puts it, “bow to legality” in the last instance. As Broder argues:

[B]ecause neofascists are able to run in elections does not mean there has been a straightforward pacification of these militants, some of whom have murdered, beaten and harassed ethnic minorities and left-wing activists in recent years, motivated by the same conspiracy theories which appear in their campaign materials. (p.117)

Trump’s putsch of 6 January 2021 ended in farce, but hardly speaks to a concern for democratic procedure. Hungary’s Orbán and India’s Modi have both built their political careers through leading successful electoral vehicles, but both have already dramatically changed the terrain of politics and narrowed the democratic space in their respective states. Historically, too, an electoral focus is no guarantee of good democratic credentials; it has been a central element of every serious fascist force in history, from Mussolini’s PNF, to Hitler’s NSDAP, to the British National Front.

The most crucial difference between the modern far right and their precursors is that today they are operating in a wildly different political context. Classical fascism came to power in Italy and Germany in the interwar period, amid the deepest social crisis capitalism has ever faced, a period when the ruling class was faced by a revolutionary workers’ movement which had shown its capacity to shake their rule. This stirred up deeply reactionary forces, radicalised right-wingers and created a receptivity to extreme undemocratic methods among the ruling class.

The fact that there are now political figures at the heads of state across the world like Meloni and Modi who include fascist dictatorships as part of their political tradition should not be taken lightly. Broder points to Meloni’s own predecessors in the MSI to prove this point. Even as its leaders pledged acceptance of the Italian Republic, the MSI’s commitment to bourgeois democracy was extremely conditional. After the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile, Almirante declared that such a regime was also a valid option for Italy, while the MSI also openly championed the anti-Communist dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Into the mainstream

Much of Broder’s analysis of the rise of Meloni’s party hinges on the massive tectonic shift which took place in Italian politics in the 1990s. The MSI had spent four decades on the margins, constrained by the existing political system dominated by the centre-right Christian Democrats and the reformist Communist Party (PCI). Suddenly, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this system collapsed. As the USSR began to break up, the PCI went into terminal crisis, voting to dissolve in 1991. Then the Christian Democrats and Socialist Party both fell after a wave of corruption scandals.

The first to step into this breach was Silvio Berlusconi, the venal Milanese media magnate, who launched the right-wing Forza Italia in late 1993, winning a general election just a few months later. Berlusconi pitched his party as a rearguard action against the return of remnants of the defeated Communist Party, and promised a Thatcherite revolution. In searching for right-wing allies, he decided it was possible and desirable to finally bring the MSI into the fold. He would later brag that he “invented the centre-right in 1994” by working “the League and the fascists” – “we legitimised and constitutionalised them”.[5]

The new MSI leader Gianfranco Fini, who pledged to be a “fascist for the year 2000”, jumped at the opportunity to realise the MSI’s long-held objective of “insertion”, forming Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) as an electoral front, and entering government for the first time. The fascists were now operating in a far more permissive intellectual climate. With the collapse of the party framework established in the aftermath of the Italian Resistance, the space was cleared for the right to challenge the dominant “anti-fascist” assumptions of the postwar period. A tidal wave of revisionist historiography was unleashed, based on the claim, as historian Renzo De Felice put it, that “the history of fascism was somehow taken hostage by the culture of the Italian left, hegemonized by the (Communist Party)”.[6] Revisionist historians popularised the claims that anti-fascist partisans were just as violent and reprehensible as their fascist opponents and that Italian fascism had a basically positive record, its sole mistake being the decision to ally with Hitler. Echoing this argument, Berlusconi told Britain’s Spectator in 2003: “Mussolini never killed anyone, he sent people into confinement to have vacations”.[7]

The MSI tradition had long called for a process of “pacification” – the freeing of Italian history from polarisation between fascism and anti-fascism. Fratelli today often claim that they have “consigned fascism to the past”. Rather than expressing some desire to break with the past, this is an injunction to Fratelli’s critics to stop talking about fascism’s historical crimes. After entering government for the first time in 1995, the MSI’s Fiuggi Congress formally embraced liberal democracy, but asserted their continuity with a “right that had lived before, during and after the 1920s” (p.9).

Under Fini, Alleanza Nazionale participated in two coalition governments, the first in 1994 and the second from 2001–6, finally achieving the “insertion” into the political landscape they desired. But the process of incorporation provoked sharp debates within the party. By 2009 Fini was leading the process of dissolving Alleanza Nazionale into Berlusconi’s party. Then, in 2010 the Eurozone crisis hit Italy, and the “Troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forced Berlusconi to resign, appointing a “technocratic” national unity government.

Fratelli pick up the torch

These two developments led to Meloni, alongside former Berlusconi ally Guido Crosseto, to split and form Fratelli d’Italia in 2012. From the start, the project sought to re-establish the continuity of fascist identity which had been consciously diluted by Fini. This should warn us against naive claims that participation in electoral politics and even government means that fascists are being gradually and progressively “domesticated”.

[I]t is not the case that their ability to participate in democratic forums has broken their tie to fascism. Rather…they bring fascist ideas into mainstream platforms and even institutional settings. (p.117)

Fratelli have risen amid the social decay and misery caused by neoliberalism and obsessive fiscal austerity which have been pursued vigorously by both the centrist Democratic Party and the right. Italy spends more on servicing the interest on its debt than it does on public education. On average, workers have got poorer since the turn of the century and are less likely to be able to find work. Broder only spends a couple of pages exploring neoliberalism, which could have been expanded, but he draws some important conclusions about its political consequences, writing:

This decline of Italians’ attachment to political parties has not produced a return of the social conflict that had dissipated in the 1980s. Rather, the result has been an increasingly volatile electoral politics, through the rise of “outsiders” who channel anger but also express lowered expectations of what kind of change is even possible”, but also noting “the normalisation of the idea that political decisions stand above democratic choice”. (p.144)

Perhaps the most consequential decision of the new party was to refuse, unlike Berlusconi and the far-right Lega, to support the technocratic government led by the banker Mario Monti. The perception that Fd’I stood outside of this establishment was central to Meloni’s rise; she was elected at the end of 2022 after the collapse of yet another “national unity” government, this time led by Mario Draghi. Again, Meloni’s party refused to support the unelected austerity government. Draghi’s record as the former head of the ECB is notorious. During the Eurozone crisis from 2009, he threatened Greece with economic strangulation after the election of Syriza on an anti-austerity platform.

Fratelli’s steady rise over the past decade has also been facilitated by a competition on the right to both promote and capitalise on anti-immigrant sentiment. Both Meloni and the far-right Lega’s Mateo Salvini have threatened mass deportations of migrants, attacked NGOs that conduct rescue operations in the Mediterranean and embraced Renaud Camus’ “great replacement” theory. This was reinforced by the racism of the political centre – the Democratic Party has utilised the right-wing slogan “Let’s help them in their own country” in the context of immigration debates.

The long-term normalisation of far-right and fascist outfits of different stripes has created a diverse milieu within which Fratelli mixes. Chapter 5 of Broder’s book makes for disturbing reading, as he covers the broad spectrum from the “hipster-fascists” of Casa Pound who operate from an occupied social centre on Rome’s Via Napoleone III, to the fascists of the football club Hellas Verona who display Nazi flags at games. While many of these activists and thugs are not members of Fratelli, there are innumerable personal and organisational links that tie them together. In 2018, one such activist opened fire on African migrants in the town of Macerata, killing six. It was later revealed he had been a candidate for the far-right Lega, one of the parties in Meloni’s coalition. While Meloni equivocated and attempted to obscure the clear political motive behind the attack, she was far from equivocal in her condemnation of the subsequent anti-fascist demonstration by outraged citizens in the town.

Fratelli emerged as the leading force on the Italian right in the run-up to the 2022 election. Meloni was able to cannibalise the voting base of her coalition partners, Lega and Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà. Fratelli benefitted from its outsider status – both Lega and PdL were electorally damaged by their participation in Draghi’s unity government. But while many portrayed their rise as a meteoric breakthrough, Broder’s book shows that the conditions for Meloni’s government were laid over decades. On the one hand, it was the result of decades of fascist cadre organising in the MSI and Alleanza Nazionale, those who “kept the flame alive” even in periods of marginality. On the other, they were able to insert themselves because of a toxic political climate increasingly permissive of fascist politics.

Whatever happened to the Italian left?

The most glaring weakness of Broder’s book is the way it elides any serious discussion of the Italian left, its political divisions and its eventual catastrophic collapse. Italy was once host to one of the biggest lefts in the developed world. It’s impossible to gain a full understanding of the strength of the Italian right without reference to the failures of the left, in particular the Italian Communist Party, the hegemonic left organisation in Italy from the Resistance during World War Two until the 1990s.

Broder does note in chapter 3 that for the political survival of fascist forces, “A key turning point came in June 1946, when [Communist] justice minister Palmiro Togliatti granted an amnesty for a swathe of wartime crimes, including ‘collaborationism’”. That is, the leader of the Italian Communist Party held a key ministry immediately after the war and used his position to show clemency to fascist war criminals. The author acknowledges that this decision allowed future MSI leaders like Almirante to come out of clandestinity and establish a new organisation. Yet Broder neglects to interrogate the context for this extraordinary approach.

Communist Party members had been the backbone of the Italian resistance to Nazi occupation.[8] But the leadership of the PCI pursued a fundamentally conservative strategy, the application to Italy of Stalin’s Popular Front. The real motive of this policy was the subordination of the party to Russian imperialist interests, at this time shaped by a hostility to workers’ revolution and the exigencies of military alliance with Britain and the US. They justified this with a stageist theory: national liberation first, deferring the question of fighting for socialism to an undefined future date. As historian Paul Ginsborg notes, the effect was “to dissipate the strength of the resistance and of worker and peasant agitation”.[9]

In a move that shocked many Communist militants, Togliatti announced in 1944 that the party would move out of opposition and join the Allied-backed government, headed by the fascist army general Badoglio and the king. The Allies made it clear that their fundamental priority was not a thoroughgoing purge of the fascists from the state apparatus, but stability and continuity. As militant workers in the north liberated cities with mass strikes and insurrections, in the south the Allies were prioritising keeping together the state bureaucracy inherited from fascism. While anti-fascists pushed for a cleansing of the state, the judiciary went untouched, and most leading fascist apparatchiks kept their jobs. Ginsborg writes that even as late as 1960, 62 of 64 provincial prefects were fascist functionaries, as were all of the country’s 135 police chiefs.[10]

Togliatti’s light-touch approach to prosecuting fascists in the postwar period has to be set in the context of the PCI’s class-collaborationist political strategy. This was a decision with enormous consequences. It provided the fascists a lifeline, and allowed them to bury themselves in the state apparatus. This is the reason why, by the time the struggles of the late 1960s broke out, fascist groups who wanted to wage armed terror against the left could still find collaborators in the highest reaches of the security establishment.

Broder pinpoints the collapse of the PCI in 1991 as an important moment in the rise of the right; the mass party had been “one of the main champions of anti-fascist memory culture” (p.29). Unfortunately he doesn’t ask what internal limitations contributed to the party’s spectacular implosion. Any rounded account of the rise of the right has to explain the collapse of the left.

Italy was once host to a mass socialist working-class movement, stretching from the reformist Communists and Socialists to a formidable range of revolutionary organisations which built an audience in the struggles of the hot autumn in 1969.[11] Most of these latter groups failed to survive the downturn in struggle which began in the mid-1970s. Their disappearance was followed a decade later by the dissolution of the PCI. Today, the absence of any credible left that has a national presence is one of the major reasons the far right has experienced such success, and faced so little resistance.

The immediate trigger for the collapse of the PCI was undeniably the shattered illusions produced by the fall of the USSR. But 1991 was so catastrophic precisely because the party had been through decades of decline. By the time of the struggles of the hot autumn, the party was already seen by a layer of student radicals, socialist intellectuals and some militant workers as irredeemably conservative and reformist in its orientation. After decades of a “two-track” approach, combining formal commitment to socialist revolution with reformist practice, the polarisation of the 1970s forced the PCI leadership to clarify its project. By 1978 they were championing law and order while reaching a “historic compromise” with Christian Democracy, backing a DC government while it implemented brutal austerity. Through the 1980s the Communist Party supported anti-strike laws and endorsed Italian participation in NATO.[12] Given this trajectory, it’s unsurprising that at the PCI’s Congress in 1991 the majority faction argued to dissolve and form the Party of the Democratic Left, a centre-left outfit which eventually morphed into the modern neoliberal Democratic Party.

The postwar left got a second wind with the emergence of Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation). Rifondazione was formed by the minority wing of the PCI who rejected the dissolution of their tradition, but it really took off when it jagged leftwards and played a substantial role in the mass anti-capitalist movement in the late 1990s. At the time, many commentators on the left championed Rifondazione’s pluralistic and broad political make-up as the source of its strength.[13] While this might have been part of its appeal, it also meant there was never a serious reckoning with the strategic questions that had shipwrecked its predecessors. What should be said about the legacy of the PCI, its class-collaborationist strategy and popular-frontism? Did this new party stand for the overthrow of capitalism, or aspire to a share of state power? Ultimately this unresolved ambiguity played to the advantage of the party’s reformist wing. By 2006 the party had shifted back to the right, and ended up in coalition with the centrist Democrats, voting to attack workers and to send troops into Afghanistan. This extremely discrediting experience led to Rifondazione’s abandonment by its base and its collapse into obscurity.

David Broder is a historian of the Italian and French Communist Parties, whom nobody would accuse of ignorance of these developments. But the failure to integrate the lessons of this history into an account of the rise of the far right is an important omission. The subsequent political vacuum which was created by the failures of these parties is essential to understanding the rise of the right. This wasn’t inevitable, but was the fruit of the dead-end approaches of Stalinism and reformism. The failure to explain this gives an edge of fatalism to Broder’s account of the right’s success.

There is also little reference to the struggles from below which have framed Italian politics for the past eight decades. While there is a fleeting account of the 1960 anti-fascist uprising which emanated from Genoa, the radical struggles of 1968–78 are barely mentioned (“hot autumn” does not appear in the index). This reinforces the bleak impression that Broder’s book leaves readers with. While Broder explores the responses from politicians and media to the fascist attack on CGIL headquarters in 2021, the anti-fascist demonstrations involving tens of thousands the following week are omitted. While left-wing political forces are in no position to decisively challenge Meloni at this point, it’s important to point out that resistance does exist, from LGBTI+ and migrant rights activism, to transit and gas worker strikes against Meloni’s economic agenda. The crucial task of the left is to build a credible political alternative that can unite and generalise these struggles.

How bleak is Italy’s future?

In his conclusion, Broder summarises that Fratelli are not simply nostalgists, but have to be understood as a dynamic force of the modern right: “postfascism is not just a matter of a ‘return to the past’. The far right is in power in new times, writing new history for the bearers of the tricolore flame” (p.176).

Since the publication of the book, what conclusions can we draw about what sort of right Meloni is forging? The first thing that has to be noted is that Meloni’s coalition has been remarkably stable thus far. Many predicted that it would be short-lived – both because of the “irregular” politics of its main constituent party, and because most parliamentary coalitions tend to be fragile.

Crucially, Meloni’s coalition has won the confidence of the business establishment. Guido Crosetto, president of a branch of the national employers’ federation, Confindustria, has acted as an important interlocutor between the government and capital. Those who label forces like Meloni’s “populist” and crudely assert that this inherently pairs with a protectionist and welfarist agenda aimed at a chauvinist working-class base will be surprised by Meloni’s economic agenda. The core of it has been support for fiscal austerity, aimed at shoring up support from big business and continuing to access EU recovery funds negotiated by the previous government. Meloni promises to bolster national competitiveness with an economy based on low wages, low taxes and low spending. Already her government has attacked welfare and slashed compensation for victims of workplace accidents.

Far from merely ruling as a traditional centre-right party, the mark of Fratelli’s political heritage has been felt from day one. Key ministries were renamed to express their ethno-nationalist worldview. The economic planning office was renamed “Ministry of Businesses and Made in Italy”, the Equality and Families brief had “and Birth Rates” added to the end – fitting from a prime minister who believes there is a global conspiracy to ethnically displace Italians. While Meloni has been able to ingratiate herself with the European establishment by championing the NATO line on Ukraine, this has sat slightly uneasily with her support for Orbán’s ostracised government in Hungary. Meloni’s attempts to unify the right at a European level by bringing together the main parliamentary groupings (the Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists, and the pro-Europe European People’s Party) have been bedevilled by divisions over EU integration and Putin’s invasion.

As part of her election campaign, Meloni threatened a naval blockade as the only way to address the “crisis” of refugees entering Italy. The government has retreated from this proposal, perhaps partly in response to her coalition partner Salvini being put on trial for blocking the entry of migrant boats while serving as interior minister in a previous government.[14]

Instead, Meloni is pursuing more conventional legal means to attack refugees and migrants. In the aftermath of the tragic sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Calabria in May, which claimed 89 lives, a sweeping bill was passed increasing penalties for people smugglers, and making deportation easier.[15] At the same time, a series of laws have been passed making it harder for NGOs to carry out life-saving rescue operations.[16]

Meloni, who last year exclaimed at a rally for Spain’s far right Vox party: “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death”,[17] has launched an as yet unconsolidated offensive against LGBTI+ rights. Same-sex adoption and surrogacy have both emerged as targets, products of a gender ideology that according to Meloni seeks “the disappearance of women and the end of maternity”.[18]

On the domestic front, one of Meloni’s most ambitious projects of political reform is the introduction of a presidential system. This demand has echoed through the whole history of postwar Italian fascism, dating back to the 1960s when the MSI urged the creation of a more centralised political system on the French model: a strong state which could act decisively against external enemies and internal subversion.

Taken overall, Meloni’s government has been able to rule successfully, operating on the terrain of Italian and European institutions while exerting influence on the politics of the present and future. Fratelli d’Italia have continued the long-term postwar strategy of insertion into the political sphere, and adapted to a relatively stable liberal-democratic order. At the same time, they’ve managed to maintain a continuity of fascist politics – points of reference which still guide their die-hard activists today. The stability of Italian society and lack of a working-class challenge mean that, unlike in the classical fascist period, violent street politics play at best an auxiliary role in Fratelli’s project. There is nothing compelling the current government to carry out sweeping changes to the structure of state, or wage war on independent civil society. Nevertheless, Fratelli cadre are operating in a political climate that is more accommodating to advancing fascist politics than anything the MSI could have dreamed of in the postwar period. The history of the Italian far right should warn us against any complacent wish that Fratelli d’Italia have reached the limit of their political ambition.


Mussolini’s Grandchildren is an important intervention into contemporary politics. As far-right and fascist forces continue to make breakthroughs across Europe, the book can help arm socialists with the history to make sense of our current moment and arguments against the tidal wave of whitewashing and normalisation that has allowed Fratelli to thrive. Mussolini’s Grandchildren also reads as a searing indictment of capitalist politics, outlining how mainstream forces – technocratic politicians, right-wing historians and slimy media outlets – have all contributed to the current nightmare.

Unfortunately, Broder’s book doesn’t explore the successes and failures of the Italian left to draw lessons about the politics we need to confront the right today. The most important lesson we can draw from history, from the armed anti-fascist units of the Arditi del Popolo in the 1920s to the World War Two-era partisans, is that the fascists can be resisted. This is something missing from Mussolini’s Grandchildren.


Armstrong, Mick 2014 “A critique of the writings of Murray Smith on broad left parties”, Marxist Left Review, 7, Summer.

Balmer, Crispian 2022 “Nationalist Meloni set to smash Italy’s glass ceiling, become premier”, Reuters, September 26.

BBC 2021, “Matteo Salvini: Right-wing Italy politician on trial for blocking migrant boat”, October 23.

Behan Tom 1999, “The Return of Italian Communism?”, International Socialism, 2:84, Autumn.

Ben-Ghiat, Ruth 2022, “The Return of Fascism in Italy”, The Atlantic, 23 September.

Bonnel, Olivier 2023, “In Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s government targets NGOs rescuing migrants at sea”, Le Monde, 6 January.

Bréville, Benoît 2023, “The Meloni Way”, Le Monde diplomatique, July.

Broder, David 2022, “Italy’s drift to the far right began long before the rise of Giorgia Meloni”, The Guardian, 27 September.

Broder, David 2023, “Giorgia Meloni’s Government Declares War on Same-Sex Parents”, The Nation, 12 April.

Downer, Alexander 2023, “Meeting Giorgia Meloni turned out to be quite a surprise”, Australian Financial Review, 4 June.

Fondation Robert Schuman 2023, “Giorgia Meloni’s first six months”, 24 April.

Ginsborg, Paul 1990, A History of Contemporary Italy, Penguin Books.

Post, Charlie 2023, “The far right today”, Tempest, April 19.

Prezioso, Stefanie 2023, “A Century Since the March on Rome”, NewPolitics, Winter.

Tavan, Luca 2023a, “Workerism and autonomism in Italy’s ‘Hot Autumn’”, Marxist Left Review, 25, Autumn.

Tavan, Luca 2023b “‘What do we want? Everything!’: Italy’s Hot Autumn”, Red Flag, 29 June.

Vassiley, Alexis 2022 “The Italian resistance to fascism”, Red Flag, 3 February.

[1] Bréville 2023.

[2] Downer 2023.

[3] For an overview of this period see Tavan 2023b.

[4] Post 2023.

[5] Broder 2022.

[6] Quoted in Prezioso 2023.

[7] Quoted in Ben-Ghiat 2022.

[8] Vassiley 2022.

[9] Ginsborg 1990, p.47.

[10] Ginsborg 1990, p.92.

[11] For the decline of the revolutionary left, see Tavan 2023a.

[12] Behan 1999.

[13] For a critique of the “broad party” strategy, see Armstrong 2014.

[14] BBC 2021.

[15] Fondation Robert Schuman 2023.

[16] Bonnel 2023.

[17] Balmer 2022.

[18] Broder 2023.

Workerism and autonomism in Italy’s “Hot Autumn”

Luca Tavan revisits the explosive period of working-class struggle in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and critiques the autonomist ideas that led to the defeat of the movement, and continue to shape the left today.

Dark clouds over Europe: Facing the new far right

Panos Petrou examines the rise of the far right in Europe in its various forms, before discussing strategies to combat it.