Claudia Baldoli. Exporting Fascism. Italian Fascists and Britain's Italians in the 1930s.
Claudia Baldoli's diligent study presents an excellent overview of the reaction to Fascism by Italian nationals and immigrants of Italian background living in Britain in the 1930s. The volume contains six densely written chapters, annotated in admirable detail. The bibliography offers a rich selection of suggestions for further consideration.
Baldoli begins with an obvious but often overlooked fact: in London there existed an Italian Embassy, and the appointed ambassador was charged with representing Italian interests in Britain. These interests included Fascism. Ambassador Dino Grandi's role was clearly delineated: "The analysis of Grandi's work [in the years 1932-39] in high diplomacy is thus integrated with the history of Italy's attempts to transform its emigrants in Britain into enthusiastic Fascists, and the contacts between Fascist Italy and British sympathisers, notably the British Union of Fascists and the Conservative Italophiles"(1). This was not an insignificant undertaking, involving, as it did, in 1931, almost 30,000 Italians, about two-thirds of whom had been born in Britain. Because they differed in community size, origin in Italy, economic and social status, approaches to the fascistization had to be somewhat different; however, the spirit of Fascist ideology was to be promoted primarily through cultural activities, affecting work, recreation and schooling. "The activities of the Italian Fasci Abroad had two principal aims: to 'remake' the Italians abroad and to expand Fascism in other countries" (2).
The opening chapter, "The 'Education of the Italians' in Britain, 1932-34," describes how the initial seeds to create new Italies and new Italians had taken root years before. Cultural groups like the Dante Alighieri Society became instrumental in realizing an Italian presence in diverse geopolitical realities, although unlike the Fasci, they were not part of Italian foreign policy. As Fascism became policy, it took advantage of discontent among British Italians regarding their status; in London, for example, the Fascio expended great effort to represent contemporary Italy as a classless nation, an attractive enterprise to most of the British Italians who, as Baldoli writes, suffered the stereotype of the Italian immigrant peasant, peddler or organ grinder. Although Baldoli makes no mention of it in her study, Margaret Macmillan's substantial work Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (London: J. Murray, 2001) complements and expands Baldoli's observations precisely regarding the matter of underclass status. The Paris Peace Conference treated the Italian delegates, and in particular Prime Minister Orlando and Foreign Minister Sonnino, with utter disdain. The slight was felt in the Italian diaspora in Britain for years following.
Chapter 2 examines Fascism from the perspective of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF). Confident that the future greatness of Britain would come about only within a Fascist Europe, the BUF promoted cultural and travel exchanges with Italy. Several British leaders, including Labour MP John Beckett and even Lloyd George, found themselves categorized as "Fascists at heart." Mosley himself was often called the British "duce." But an international Fascist movement eluded him, despite BUF claims to the same Roman origins as Italy's Fascist movement. The rise of the Nazis had raised the political stakes, preventing further Italian-British cooperation. As Baldoli elaborates in the following chapter, "Toward a Corporativist Community: the Fasci italiani all'estero in Britain, 1935-37," the new agenda of Fascism included preparing for war against Britain, now considered the true enemy (67). Ambassador Grandi fomented anti-British feeling with his aggressive focus on the events of the war in Ethiopia, which became for him a war to be won against the British in order to destroy the myth of the inferior Italian. With the Italian victory in Ethiopia, Grandi could point to Germany and Italy as examples of imperial success, discounting Britain completely. Strangely enough, writing later in his memoirs, he criticizes Mussolini precisely for such a stance. How ironic then that the Ambassador himself had to admit he could not avoid working with the British establishment, at the risk of alienating himself from the BUF. Considering this conundrum, Baldoli wonders in Chapter 4 ("A 'Wonderful Colonisation': Italian Fascism and the British Italophiles during the Ethiopian War") whether the German threat and the continued Italian antagonism toward Britain might have compromised Grandi's hopes for improved political relations between the Italians and the British. Pro-Fascist Italophiles, mostly journalists and intellectuals, appeared to serve Grandi's cause, although there remained the rift between their pro-Italian but decidedly anti-German stance, even as Italy moved into closer alliance with Hitler. Eventually, Grandi's work in London was hindered by more strident anti-British propaganda from Italy herself. Grandi added to this confusion by his reports to Mussolini that Britain was not ready to enter into combat against Italy. Once Italy had declared war on Britain, Fascist activities in London stopped. But until then, all cultural activities continued despite the curt dismissal, in 1937, of Piero Parini who had organized the Fasci Abroad over the previous ten years.
Chapter 5 of this volume is dedicated to the post-Parini era. Micromanagement of the Fasci Abroad from Rome intensified, although Mussolini had not taken into account the divided loyalties of Italian nationals who were now also British citizens. That the Fascist paper, L'Italia nostra, continued to discount the inevitable alliance between Italy and Germany and attenuate Italy's aggressive political stance confirms the break that British Italians experienced towards their fatherland. According to Baldoli in her last chapter, Grandi himself expressed a similar diffidence and welcomed John Edward Bernard Mottistone's compliment for his (Grandi's) "ceaseless efforts in the cause of Italian English friendship" (171). Baldoli concludes that Grandi continued to see himself as the 11th-hour mitigator between Italy and Europe. Then suddenly Mussolini ordered him home and Grandi's mission ended.
Claudia Baldoli deserves high praise for the carefully detailed research presented in Exporting Fascism. Her insightful reading and analysis of so many diverse primary materials is commendable. Her work will remain a fundamental volume for consultation, not only by academics interested in the history of the promulgation of Italian Fascism in Britain, but also by scholars of English and Italian literature of the period, and by those whose focus is Italian immigration studies.
Anne Urbancic, University of Toronto
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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