Meloni’s antecedents

Toby Abse reviews David Broder Mussolini’s grandchildren: fascism in contemporary Italy Pluto Press 2023, pp240, £17.99

The title of David Broder’s new book, Mussolini’s grandchildren, whilst obviously designed to be eye-catching, is slightly misleading, if interpreted too literally.

By giving his introduction the subtitle, ‘Mussolini’s granddaughters’, he presumably aims to keep the attention of any casual browser who has glanced at the title page in a branch of Waterstone’s, but Rachele Mussolini - the daughter of the Duce’s youngest son, Romano, and now a councillor for the rightwing Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) in Rome - makes a brief appearance on p1, never to be mentioned again. Her better-known half-sister, Alessandra, although appearing 11 times in his index (hardly surprisingly, as she has played a political role throughout the three decades since she stood as a mayoral candidate for the far-right Movimento Sociale Italiano in Naples in 1993, gaining an impressive 44% in a run-off ballot), is a peripheral, rather than central, figure in Broder’s account. Moreover, he makes no mention of Alessandra’s parallel show business career, which would arguably have served as a good illustration of the normalisation of fascism in the Italian mainstream media - something which he discusses elsewhere in the book.

However, potential readers should not be put off by this slightly sensationalist presentation that is probably a by-product of Broder’s new role as Europe editor of The Jacobin. This is a very serious work, and, as far as I am aware, the only book-length study of the origins of prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s FdI available in English. The bulk of it is devoted to a detailed historical account of the three successive political parties that have represented the neo-fascist tradition in Italian politics since World War II - the MSI (1946-95); the Alleanza Nazionale (1994-2009); and the FdI from 2012 onwards. The central core of the first of these was made up of veterans of Mussolini’s Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI) during 1943-45, the most extreme phase of Italian fascism, during which the RSI worked closely with the German Nazi occupiers.

Chapters 2, 3 and 5 deal with these three groups, while the other two chapters have a slightly different, less chronological focus. Chapter 1 discusses the attitude of the neo-fascists to historical memory, particularly questions relating to Word War II - which some might think is a little esoteric (or merely the product of Broder’s earlier interest as a researcher and translator in the history of the Italian resistance), but is in fact absolutely essential to any genuine understanding of the Italian neo-fascist world view. Chapter 4 looks at recent neo-fascist groups of a more extreme and openly violent character than the FdI (eg, Casa Pound and Forza Nuova) and marshals a lot of evidence to show how closely entangled they are with both Giorgia Meloni’s FdI and Matteo Salvini’s Lega.


Broder’s research - drawing on many historical works in Italian, as well as a wide array of newspaper and internet sources - has in my view all the thoroughness of an academically trained historian, rather than the superficial and slipshod approach of so many journalists, both British and Italian. Many who have written about Giorgia Meloni and the FdI have often made elementary mistakes, such as claiming Meloni was never in the MSI, or that she never publicly praised Mussolini (Broder points out that she did in an interview with French television in 1996).

But I have to take issue with some of his more general conclusions. First and foremost, I do not think the FdI is a “post-fascist” party; I would describe it as fascist or perhaps neo-fascist. The fact that FdI does not seek to restore the dictatorship of 1922-45 is irrelevant to such a definition. The MSI’s long-standing official position was that it would “neither restore nor renege on” Mussolini’s regime. The one party amongst the triad of MSI, AN and FdI that seemed to be moving towards a genuinely “post-fascist” position was the AN under the leadership of Gianfranco Fini, but Fini was regarded with increasing suspicion by many of his members by 2009, and was viewed as an absolute traitor to the fascist cause by the hard-core group that set up FdI in 2012.

There have been various public instances of this hostile attitude towards Fini being displayed by Meloni and her close associates, but it became most apparent at Pino Rauti’s funeral in November 2012, a few weeks before the foundation of the FdI in December 2012. As many readers will be unfamiliar with the conflicting strands within Italian neo-fascism, I will explain Rauti’s role within the MSI, before quoting Broder’s account of his funeral.

Rauti (1926-2012) - a veteran of Mussolini’s Repubblica Sociale Italiana, although briefly MSI leader in 1990-91 - was for much of his life so extreme a neo-fascist that he found the MSI’s relative moderation too much to bear, leaving it in 1957 to lead the terrorist organisation Ordine Nuovo, before rejoining in 1959, when the more extreme Giorgio Almirante, the erstwhile editor of the notorious La Difesa della Razza from 1938, became leader. Rauti left again in 1995, in protest against Fini’s ‘Fiuggi turn’ to form the Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore (a sort of continuity MSI), although he was in due course expelled from this splinter group by younger, even more extreme leaders. Broder points out:

Hundreds of militants waved Rauti goodbye with fascist salutes. But it was the attendance of Gianfranco Fini that made the most headlines. As the president of the Chamber of Deputies [Fini] arrived at Rome’s Basilica di San Marco, dozens of mourners began to shout ‘Fuck off’ and ‘Get lost’. While Rauti and Fini had been camerati in the MSI for some two decades, the Alleanza Nazionale founder had a dismal reputation amongst those who opposed his many concessions to anti-fascism. This was surely the reason why the shouting and spitting also included shouts of ‘Badoglio’, the ultimate insult for someone from this political tradition. The name refers to the marshal who fought in Mussolini’s wars, only then to break with him in July 1943, abandoning the Nazi ally and siding with the Anglo-Americans (pp147-48).

Whilst both Meloni and Ignazio La Russa - a co-founder of the FdI in 2012 and president of the Italian Senate since October 2022 - were present on this occasion, Broder does not indicate whether or not they participated in the heckling. Rauti’s daughter, Isabella - who will not hear a word against her Nazi collaborator and terrorist father - is now one of the FdI’s leading parliamentarians, having beaten the PD’s Emmanuele Fiano (the son of a Jewish holocaust survivor, who in 2017 had unsuccessfully attempted to tighten the Italian law against fascist apologism) in September 2022. Readers may perhaps be a little sceptical that the choice of such a candidate in a direct contest with Fiano proves that the FdI is a ‘post-fascist’ party.

Whatever moral judgement one makes about Fini, who was politically marginalised in the decade after the incident at Rauti’s funeral, he did genuinely turn his back on the fascist tradition. In a speech to the Azione Giovani youth group in September 2008, he actually said that “the men of the resistance were on the right side; those of Salò on the wrong one”, and that “the Italian right, and especially the young, must unambiguously say loud and clear that they identify with the values of our constitution” and “fully identify with anti-fascist values” (p109). Many in the audience were shocked, and heckled Fini.

As Broder points out, Meloni, who had been the leader of Azione Giovani since 2004, but by 2008 was also youth minister in Berlusconi’s last government, responded with an ambiguous open letter, including phrases like “Enough about fascism and anti-fascism”. It is worth mentioning that when this year, on the eve of April 25 (Liberation Day - the anniversary of the anti-fascist uprising by the Italian resistance in 1945), Fini called on her to make a statement along the lines of his 2008 one, she responded with a very ambiguous statement in Corriere della Sera, which avoided using the word ‘anti-fascism’, and focused on the alleged crimes of the resistance, whether real or imagined, while some of her leading FdI cronies made poisonous off-the-record comments about Fini.


Even if one leaves to one side the extent to which the FdI has retreated from Fini’s post-fascism back into a traditional neo-fascist bunker in relation to the events of 1943-45, there was another issue, which in my view defines Meloni’s world view as neo-fascist, or even neo-Nazi. This is her consistent use of the ‘great replacement theory’, or as she normally calls it ‘Sostituzione Etnica’ (ethnic substitution).

It is true that she is very well aware of its negative connotations outside Italy, ever since its notorious use by both the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik, and the Christchurch Mosque mass murderer, Brenton Tarrant, who entitled his manifesto ‘The great replacement’. Therefore Meloni has made no reference to it since becoming prime minister, and indeed was somewhat annoyed when her brother-in-law, Franceso Lollobrigida (a distant relation of the late film star!), whom she has appointed agriculture minister, made a public reference to it, which got picked up by foreign media.

Nonetheless, not only did she refer to it in the early days of the FdI, but was still using it as the climax of a public speech she made a few days before the 2022 general election. Whilst attacks on immigrants and immigration are the stock in trade of rightwing politicians all over the world, as they seek to direct the anger of the indigenous working class against a ‘foreign’ scapegoat rather than against employers or the ruling class as a whole, the ‘great replacement theory’ is qualitatively different. Its essence - very rarely publicly stated in so many words (except by the Charlottesville neo-Nazis, who chanted, “The Jews will not replace us!”) - is that the Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to replace white Christian Europeans with blacks and/or Muslims.

I would argue that this is really an updating of Hitler’s world view, in which the Jews, whether capitalist or communist, are engaged in a conspiracy against the Aryans, making use of various ‘inferior’ races, such as the Slavs or very occasionally - since Mein Kampf was written in the mid-1920s - blacks, as their tools. Most of the time, Meloni and her associates use euphemisms like ‘international finance’, ‘big capital’, ‘international elite’ and so forth, but from time to time she lets the anti-Semitic cat out of the bag. For example, in her Facebook post of March 7 2017 she wrote that “Soros, the greatest financial speculator in the world, finances the invasion of Europe by illegal immigrants”, and two years later, on March 24 2019, she told her followers on Facebook:

Soros, the financial speculator who sustains the NGOs to favour mass immigration into Europe and destroy the nation-states, has just officially financed Emma Bonino’s Party, +Europa, with €200,000. Soros and great finance have taken to the field for the next European elections: they have chosen the left as their allies, and us sovranisti (‘souverainists’) as their enemies. The FdI can be proud of this: keep the money of the usurers - our strength is the Italian people.1

Whilst Broder does point out that Meloni is “a propagator of anti-Soros conspiracy theories” (p159) and quotes a number of Meloni tweets - such as one attacking Soros as the “financier who supports and finances mass immigration and the plan for ethnic substitution worldwide” (January 8 2018, quoted on p45) - he does not actually home in on her anti-Semitism, even to the limited extent of the cautious liberal political scientists, Salvatore Vassallo and Rinaldo Vignati, who suggest that the term ‘usurer’ “if used in relation to somebody of Jewish origin such as Soros … echoes a rooted anti-Semitic stereotype”2.

Broder quite rightly illustrates the rather demented character of Meloni’s ranting at the June 2022 election rally of the Spanish far-right party VOX:

Gender ideology pursues not the much vaunted fight against discrimination, or the overcoming of male-female differences: no, the undeclared, but tragically obvious, aim is the disappearance of women and the end of maternity (p158).

However, her attacks on ‘the LGBT lobby’ are really only a secondary strand in her conspiratorial world view.

Another area on which I differ with Broder is his analysis of the 2022 general election campaign.3 He rightly points out that “the overall rightwing coalition only increased its vote by 150,000, compared to four years previously” and argues, with a certain amount of justification, that “the main factors” in the FdI’s success were “shifts within the rightwing coalition, together with the collapse of the Five Star Movement” (p146).

But he ignores the important role played by the suicidal electoral strategy of the Partito Democratico (PD), which, by refusing to make a deal with Five Star, handed the vast majority of the first-past-the-post constituencies (roughly one third of the total, two thirds being allocated by PR) to Meloni on a plate. One might have thought that an historian would have been mindful of the precedents - the division between socialists and communists in Italy in the early 1920s and Germany in the early 1930s.

I realise that some readers may feel that an electoral pact centred around the PD and M5S (ie, what were at that stage a centrist, neoliberal party and a vaguely leftist populist party) would have been merely a sort of ‘popular front’ and not the classical ‘united front’ of workers’ parties against fascism advocated by Trotsky and other early 20th century Marxists. However, as somebody who has lived eight months in a country with this monster as prime minister, I think it would have been worthwhile to try and stop the FdI via the ballot box l

Toby Abse

  1. These posts are cited in S Vassallo and R Vignati Fratelli di Giorgia: il partito della destra nazionale-conservatore (Bologna 2023, pp207-08). This is a book written by two Italian political scientists from a liberal perspective that covers some of the same ground as Broder.↩︎

  2. S Vassallo and R Vignati op cit p208.↩︎

  3. I realise that, as Broder himself admits, “Finishing the book overlapped with the campaign itself” (pxvi), so this criticism may be slightly unfair.↩︎