Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany:
Comparisons and Contrasts

Richard Bessel (editor)

Cambridge University Press 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004 http://dannyreviews.com/
The ten essays in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, arranged in five Italy/Germany pairs, explore topics in the social, economic and political history of the two regimes. Despite the subtitle, there is little in the way of direct comparison between them, with the contrasts mostly left implicit.

The contributions are scholarly but the collection should appeal to a range of lay readers. It makes a provoking introduction to the broader history of Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany, ideal for those wanting to venture beyond high profile topics such as the leaders, the political and military events, and the Holocaust.

Adrian Lyttelton opens with a piece on bourgeois society in Italy, looking at the class backgrounds of the Fascist squadristi and their supporters and at the regime's use of violence. Fascism had "limited impact on bourgeois mores", but "accentuated features ... typical of an emerging mass society".

Bernd Weisbrod traces the impact of the First World War on the German bourgeois notions of property, learning and skill, and civilised behavior. It was there, and in post-war Freikorps vigilantism, that "bourgeois society learned to look to a new state to remake civil society in its image; and it was there that violence was experienced as a successful political force".

Looking at Italian workers under fascism, Tobias Abse describes the tradition of sovversivismo and the battles against fascists in 1921-22. Fascist mass organisations were largely unsuccessful in co-opting the working classes: there were even mass strikes in spring 1943, before the Allied invasion of Italy or the German occupation.

In Nazi Germany, Tilla Siegel argues against imposition of a victim/perpetrator dichotomy and the error of viewing working class behaviour solely through the issue of "regime support or opposition". She traces the changing regime policy towards workers, looking at Nazi rationalisation, the modernisation of industry, and continuities with Weimar and post-war Germany.

Perry R. Wilson stresses the diversity of Italian women's experiences under Fascism. Surveying the gap between rhetoric and action, he concludes that "the particular patterns of industrialisation, commercialisation, and urbanisation had more power to shape female experiences in this period than the crude tools of Fascist ideology and policy".

Gabriele Czarnowski describes Nazi "public health" controls over marriage, based on race and "mental disturbance". Despite pro-family rhetoric, on the one hand marriage clearance certificates were required and on the other divorce was made easier. "The judges of the high court were especially divorce-happy when it came to helping plaintiff husbands transform their adulterous relationships into 'racially valuable' second marriages."

In the only directly comparative essay, MacGregor Knox contrasts the two regimes' fighting power. Greater militarisation and economic strength and a more virulent national mythology helped make Germany more expansionist than Italy. Superior equipment, doctrine, training, and leadership underpinned its military prowess. And early successes, improved living conditions, and broadening of opportunities produced more enduring loyalty to the Nazi regime.

Michael Geyer also writes about the Nazi pursuit of war. He describes how militarisation and mobilisation laid the grounds for a total war which, once started, became a "self-sustaining, national enterprise". It was "no forgone conclusion", however, but was driven by Hitler's fanaticism and enabled by the destruction of representative democracy and a political public.

Carl Levy describes the role of Fascism in modernising Italy and the continuities between fascism and "post-fascism". He traces the post-war persistence of the extreme Right in Italian politics, where neo-Fascism has remained a political actor to the present.

Mark Roseman surveys the historiographical debates over modernisation and Nazi Germany. One line of argument is that Nazism was a reaction to a modernisation failure; others have stressed the modernity of many aspects of Nazi policy. "Nazi social policy often embodied innovative responses to problems of industrial society... Nazi societal policy was not dysfunctional."

August 2004

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%T Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
%S Comparisons and Contrasts
%E Bessel, Richard
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1996
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 0521477115
%P 242pp