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The Embassy was well aware of Mussolini's totalitarian measures. Fascism had "effectively stifled hostile elements in restricting the right of free assembly, in abolishing freedom of the press and in having at its command a large military organization," the Embassy reported in a message of February 1925, after a major Fascist crackdown. But Mussolini remained a "moderate," manfully confronting the fearsome Bolsheviks while fending off the extremist fringe on the right. His qualifications as a moderate were implicit in the judgment expressed by Ambassador Henry Fletcher: the choice in Italy is "between Mussolini and Fascism and Giolitti and Socialism" -- Giolitti being the liberal Prime Minister who had collaborated with Mussolini in the repression of labor but now found himself a target as well. The population preferred "peace and prosperity" under Fascism to "free speech, loose administration...[and] the danger and disorganization of Bolshevism," Fletcher reported. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg joined him in labelling all opposition groups "communists, socialists, and anarchists." The chief of the State Department Western European Division, William Castle, recognized in 1926 that "the methods of the Duce are not by any means American methods," but "methods which would certainly not appeal to this country might easily appeal to a people so differently constituted as are the Italians." Il Duce and his effective methods won wide respect in the political and intellectual communities, including progressive opinion.53
While a Senator in 1919, Kellogg had bitterly condemned the domestic "nihilists" and "anarchists" who "try to incite the dissatisfied elements of this country to a class warfare." As Secretary of State, he barred Communists from entry to the country because "this is the only way to treat these revolutionists," and lumped LaFollette's progressivism together with Socialism, Communism, and the I.W.W. Kellogg demanded further that the Russians "must cease their propaganda in the United States" as a condition for recognition.54 This was an entirely natural doctrine, given the ideological nature of the threat "to the very survival of the capitalist order," and a demand that was to be reiterated regularly in one or another form in later years.
As the effects of the great depression hit Europe, leading to social and political unrest, Fascist Italy received mounting praise as a bastion of order and stability, free of class struggle and challenges from labor and the left. "The wops are unwopping themselves," Fortune magazine wrote with awe in a special issue devoted to Fascist Italy in 1934. Others agreed. State Department roving Ambassador Norman Davis praised the successes of Italy in remarks before the Council of Foreign Relations in 1933, speaking after the Italian Ambassador had drawn applause from his distinguished audience for his description of how Italy had put its "own house in order... A class war was put down" -- by means that were apparently regarded as appropriate. Roosevelt's Ambassador to Italy, Breckenridge Long, was also full of enthusiasm for the "new experiment in government" under Fascism, which "works most successfully in Italy." After World War II, Henry Stimson (Secretary of State under Hoover, Secretary of War under Roosevelt) recalled that he and Hoover had found Mussolini to be "a sound and useful leader." When Marine General Smedley Butler made some critical comments about Mussolini in 1931, Stimson had brought court-martial proceedings against him, making no effort to ascertain the facts. When Fascists won 99% of the vote in the March 1934 election, the State Department concluded that the results "demonstrate incontestably the popularity of the Fascist regime." Roosevelt shared many of these positive views of "that admirable Italian gentleman," as he termed Mussolini in 1933.55
Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia was condemned, but did not seriously harm U.S. relations with Fascist Italy. The essential reason was given by Ambassador Long: if Mussolini fell and the country was left "without guidance," "the violent manifestations of Bolshevism would be apparent in the industrial centers and in the agricultural regions where private ownership still pertains." A 1937 State Department report concluded that "Fascism is becoming the soul of Italy," having "brought order out of chaos, discipline out of license, and solvency out of bankruptcy." To "accomplish so much in a short time severe measures have been necessary," the report continued. Furthermore, like Germany under Hitler, Italy was standing in the way of Russian influence in Spain during the Civil War. Washington had adopted a form of "neutrality" that amounted to a tilt towards Spanish Fascism against the liberal democratic republic, while joining in the uniform hostility of the West and Stalin to the popular libertarian revolution.56
In the major academic study of the topic, David Schmitz points out that the model developed for Italy, with "moderate" Fascists holding the middle ground between the dreaded left and right-wing extremists, was applied to Nazism as well. Here, Hitler was chosen as the representative of the moderates who promised "social order, anti-Bolshevik laws, and protection for foreign capital," Schmitz observes. The American chargé d'affaires in Berlin wrote Washington in 1933 that the hope for Germany lay in "the more moderate section of the [Nazi] party, headed by Hitler himself...which appeal[s] to all civilized and reasonable people," and seems to have "the upper hand" over the violent fringe. In 1937, the State Department saw Fascism as compatible with U.S. economic interests. A report of the European Division explained its rise as the natural reaction of "the rich and middle classes, in self-defense" when the "dissatisfied masses, with the example of the Russian revolution before them, swing to the Left." Fascism therefore "must succeed or the masses, this time reinforced by the disillusioned middle classes, will again turn to the left." Not until European Fascism attacked U.S. interests directly did it become an avowed enemy. The reaction to Japanese Fascism was much the same.57
Though the Axis powers became enemies during World War II, the general framework of thinking never really changed. As the United States liberated southern Italy in 1943, it followed Churchill's advice that the primary consideration must be to prevent "chaos, bolshevization or civil war." "There is nothing between the King and the patriots who have rallied round him and rampant Bolshevism," Churchill warned. The U.S. supported the King, who had collaborated fully with the Fascist regime, and the right-wing dictatorship of Field-Marshall Badoglio, a Fascist war hero, just as Roosevelt had installed the French Fascist Admiral Darlan in North Africa in 1942, in the first area liberated from Nazi control. Henry Stimson and the State Department sought to bring the Fascist leader Dino Grandi to power, describing this high official of the Mussolini dictatorship from its first years as a "moderate" among the Blackshirts who was "driven into [Fascism] by the excesses of the Communists"; a reconstruction of history along similar lines is familiar in contemporary rightwing and neo-Nazi circles. In Italy, as throughout the world, fascists and collaborators were restored to power and influence by the Allied liberators. The general goal was to destroy the anti-fascist resistance, undermine the popular forces on which it was based, and reconstruct the traditional conservative order, now under U.S. domination.58
The distinction between the "moderates" led by Mussolini and the "extremists" he sought to control came "to dominate all State Department thinking on Fascism and helped to provide the ideological grounds for the continuous support of Mussolini throughout the interwar years," Schmitz comments. It was taken as the model for support of Hitler as the moderate leader of the Nazis, and "was to become a familiar and almost automatic pattern of behavior by American foreign policymakers in the name of anticommunism in the twentieth century."59
The pattern is particularly evident in Latin America, the traditional domain of U.S. intervention, which took a new form, adopting the new analytical framework, immediately after World War I. Until that time, U.S. intervention had been portrayed as a defensive reaction against European enemies: Britain, France, and Germany, primarily. But with U.S. power in the ascendant, these were less plausible antagonists, and as guardian of the capitalist order, the United States turned to the ideological challenge posed to its "very survival" by the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The Mexican revolution, with its steps towards economic nationalism, raised the specter in a sharp form. Particularly ominous was Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which became a major bone of contention in 1917 because of its call for state participation in and direction of the economy (particularly development of natural resources), and for subordination of private property to the general welfare. The analogy to Bolshevism was quickly drawn in the standard dual way: these moves were a direct threat to U.S. investors, and might also encourage others, including domestic elements, to think along similar lines (the domino effect, in its realistic variant). U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Henry Fletcher warned in 1918 that Mexico's goal was "to replace the Monroe Doctrine" so that "the hegemony of the United States on this Continent is to pass away"; Fletcher was soon to move to Italy where, as we have seen, he became a spokesman for Mussolini's Fascism as a barrier to "Bolshevism" (including Socialism and liberalism). Article 27, Fletcher wrote to President Wilson in 1919, would practically terminate foreign investment in Mexico.60
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53 Ibid., 77f. Kellogg, Krenn, U.S. Policy toward Economic Nationalism, 53-4. On the favorable general response to Mussolini's Fascism in the United States, see John Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism (Princeton, 1972).
54 Krenn, op. cit., 53.
55 Schmitz, op. cit., chapter 6.
56 Ibid., chapter 7. On Spain, see my American Power and the New Mandarins (Pantheon, 1969), chapter 1, parts relevant here reprinted in James Peck, ed., The Chomsky Reader (Pantheon, 1987).
57 Schmitz, op. cit., 133, 140, 174 and chapter 9. On Japan, see my American Power and the New Mandarins, chapter 2.
58 Schmitz, op. cit., Epilogue. See chapter 11, below, for more extensive discussion. For a review of the project, see Turning the Tide, chapter 4, sec. 4.4, and sources cited, particularly the groundbreaking work of Gabriel and Joyce Kolko.
59 Schmitz, op. cit., 60-1.
60 Krenn, op. cit., 40, 51ff.