By Ali Yasin
Exploring the impact of neo-fascism on the politics of post-war Europe is often a challenging subject for historians and political scientists. There is a risk of downplaying both the significance of its influence, as well as the substantial ways it has evolved ideologically and tactically from the fascist movements of the early 20th century. This is in part due to the transition of the far-right in Europe from a popular movement striving for the mass mobilization of its supporters, to a clandestine and openly subversive revolutionary faction which tries to create a political climate that is more favorable towards far-right politics.
Political scientist Grant Amyot examines the effects of this more underground neo-fascism on the political evolution of the so called “First Italian Republic” (the uncontested 49 year rule of the Italian Christian Democratic Party following the end of the Second World War) in his article “The Shadow Of Fascism Over The Italian Republic. He claims that while scholars often minimize the role of the far-right in conditioning the politics of the First Republic, largely because of the very limited electoral success of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) and the refusal of larger parties to form governing coalitions with them, this neglects the disproportionate influence held by neo-fascists within post-war Italian society through what he labels as the “deep state”. Amyot describes the deep state as a “hidden layer of power” formed by a wide network of powerful businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats, as well as high ranking members of the armed forces, police, and intelligence services. These otherwise disparate actors were unified by a shared far-right ideology which many of its members had held since the fascist regime of Mussolini, and the common purpose of preventing any left wing social forces from gaining political power. To this end, they cooperated in carrying out a wave of domestic terror attacks on the Italian people, with the explicit purpose of framing far-left activists and building hostility towards the possibility of a left-wing coalition government. In addition to these secret acts of terrorism, the deep state also more publicly suggested the possibility of a military coup in response to a left-wing government taking power. This possibility was taken very seriously across the Italian political spectrum, with military coups against socialist governments in Greece and Chile serving as recent analogues.
Although the military coup that many neo-fascists anticipated never came to pass, Amyot convincingly argues that the far-right deep state was still largely successful in achieving its political goals. Not only did a left-wing government never come to power despite the strong electoral performance of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), but the members of the Italian far-left were also so fearful of an authoritarian response to a comprehensive social reform program, that they never earnestly tried to implement one, even while the Christian Democrats were forced to rely on their support in parliament. The most concerning aspect of this remarkable political success enjoyed by Italian neo-fascists in the post-war era is not the fact they were able to achieve their goals largely in secret, or with a comparatively minuscule number of activists, but rather that they were permitted to carry out their activities by the American led global military and intelligence apparatus, which viewed the possibility of a “communist takeover” as a bigger threat to liberal democracy than the reemergence of fascist authoritarianism in Europe.
Grant Amyot, “The Shadow of Fascism over the Italian Republic,” Human Affairs 21, no. 1 (2011): 35–43