Fascist Italy and Austria Hand Hitler His First Defeat

by Norman Berdichevsky (September 2009)

The Spanish Civil War has frequently been portrayed as an epic struggle between the forces of the LEFT (variously identified as progressive, liberal, socialist, internationalist, democratic and “anti-Fascist”) and the RIGHT (labeled reactionary, conservative, religious,  “anti-democratic” and Fascist”) yet as I pointed out in my article “Franco, Fascism and the Falange; Not One and the Same Thing” (NER  September, 2008 ) the Falange  appealed directly to the working class and did not see eye to eye with Franco on many issues. The tension between them eventually led to a wholesale purge of the Falange from Franco’s post civil war government and a plot to assassinate Franco. The “revolutionary” songs of the Falange match those of the “Popular Front” for glorifying the common people and contempt for the aristocracy and much of bourgeois society.

In American political discourse, “Fascist!”  is nevertheless, the ultimate epithet bandied about and frequently hung around the neck of those who value constitutional safeguards, parliamentary traditions, have deep seated religious convictions or believe in a strong military stance to defend the United States or resolutely oppose Communism.  

Both Mussolini and his Foreign Minister Ciano made numerous mentions in their diaries of opposition to introducing anti-Semitic laws in Italy until pressed in July 1938 under extreme pressure to do so from Hitler as part of the price of an alliance of the two Axis powers. The view that “Right-wing” or conservative or nationalist parties is necessarily anti-Semitic or that the liberal Left is necessarily philo-Semitic (or at least anti-anti-Semitic) is contradicted by the experience of Italy, several other European nations, and in the history of the various “populist” and anti-Semitic movements in the United States but persists as a self-evident, unchallenged cardinal point in the arguments of many American (especially Jewish) liberals. 


Schuschnigg inevitably caved in with the growth of Hitler’s power and influence following Munich, the willingness of the British and the French to continue to appease German power and Mussolini’s about-face. The Italian dictator abandoned what principles he had and accepted Austria’s demise when assured by Hitler that the Nazis would not use their pan-German nationalism to demand a revision of the Austrian-Italian border. Hitler willingly abandoned the cause of the German speaking minority in the South Tyrol region to cement the Axis alliance with his Italian co-part. 
Many Austrians left their homeland rather than submit to the new Nazi regime following incorporation of their homeland in Germany. The country, like Germany, was conquered and divided into four zones of occupation by the victorious Allied powers in 1945. Furthermore, the Soviets insisted on severe reparations mostly in the form of forced deliveries of oil. In addition, the “Iron Curtain” reinforced imposed limitations on free trade with Austria’s Eastern neighbors under Soviet domination.

How then has Austria managed since 1955 when it regained full sovereignty to develop its economy so successfully? There is no doubt that today its level of prosperity and low unemployment level considerably exceed that of the much larger reunited German state. The secret does not lie in raw material resources or economic aid from abroad. It is due to the hard work, devotion and patriotism of Austrians who made up their minds to support a stable democratic society with full human rights for all citizens and unanimous support for permanent neutrality.
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