The first meeting of the Italian parliament in Rome, 150 years ago today, was a symbolic show of national reunification. Yet the battle against foreign domination had raised sharply contrasting ideas of the future Italy — leaving a lasting impact on socialists worldwide.
Anne Colamosca is an independent writer and book critic.
Italy’s first postwar agriculture secretary, Fausto Gullo, was a Communist who used his office to redistribute land and give peasants control over their lives. His reforms promised to democratize the South’s deeply unequal economy — only for conservatives to reassert the dead hand of landowner power.
Inspired by the hardships faced by peasants in his native Abruzzo, Ignazio Silone’s Fontamara was one of the great anti-fascist novels of the twentieth century. But his own political journey was deeply conflicted, as he left behind his Bolshevik past to become a strident anti-communist.
The Booker Prize shortlisting of Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King is the latest sign of rising interest in Fascist Italy’s colonial war in Ethiopia. The genocidal violence perpetrated against Ethiopians in 1935–6 was soon turned back onto European soil — and united Italian anti-fascists with the Africans resisting colonial aggression.
Author of Broadway hit The Women, the Vanity Fair managing editor Clare Boothe Luce was a dogged anticommunist. As US ambassador to Italy, she worked tirelessly to keep the Left out of office — and set a precedent for Washington’s meddling in democracies abroad.
One of the great Italian novelists of the last century, Natalia Ginzburg was long overlooked in the United States. Yet as Italy turns back toward the far right, this leading voice of the antifascist generation is again calling out to the present.