On 25 September 1921, a young left-wing lawyer and councillor called Giuseppe Di Vagno went out for an evening stroll with friends in Mola di Bari in Puglia, leaving his pregnant wife at home. From the shadows emerged a group of men. They pulled out guns, shot him in the back and threw a bomb. Di Vagno died the next day, the first – but not the last – politician to be killed by the Fascists in their battles against the forces of the Left, be they socialists, anarchists, trade unionists or communists. As John Foot notes, violence, ‘visceral, epochal and life changing’, lay at the very heart of the two decades of Fascist rule.
Foot has made this violence – along with its perpetrators, victims and bystanders – the theme of his new book. He argues that the ‘years of consent’, an expression often used to describe the ten years or so during the middle of Mussolini’s tenure, were not in fact consensual at all but marked by ceaseless brutality. To this end, he has chosen to focus not on the wider history but on the lives of the individuals who suffered under the Fascist regime.
Long before Mussolini came to power in 1922, Italy was in a state of anarchy: jobless war veterans and peasants were locked in conflict with industrialists and big landowners. Liberal governments, remembered for their corruption and the poverty to which they reduced Italy, formed and fell.