This episode is a little different. It’s about a topic that I’ve previously written and spoken about, though not on the podcast. Vanport was one of the largest federal housing projects in the United States during WWII. It went up hastily and cheaply just outside of Portland, Oregon, producing supply ships in less than two months, and was Oregon’s first major African-American population center. In 1948, though, it was destroyed by a cataclysmic flood that wiped the then second-largest town in Oregon off the map entirely.
Maybe the most famous part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a ladder that’s been propped onto the side of the building since at least the 1750s. The church is sacred to six different Christian sects, all of whom have to agree unanimously on anything in order to change any features of the church. For the past 250 plus years, none of them have agreed on where the ladder came from, who owns it, or where it should go. Tensions have occasionally led to fistfights at the Church of the holy Sepulchre, and the ladder remains a symbol of inter-sectarian non-cooperation.
Confederate statues have been in the news lately. Memorials always reflect the time they were built in moreso than the time they commemorate, and the vast majority of confederate statues were built in the Jim Crow era, in the early 1900s as part of a neo-Confederate propaganda campaign to bolster the South’s reputation. Most of the statues were built quickly and cheaply by the Monumental Bronze Company, which mass-produced both Union and Confederate monuments.
Aside from glorifying white supremacy and slavery, the statues (in this podcaster’s opinion) are bad history. Eastern bloc memorials such as Budapest’s Memmento Park could offer some guidance about what to do with monumental propaganda to an oppressive regime.
After the Kingdom of Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, Mussolini was a prisoner. But, during a German invasion of Northern Italy, he was sprung from his cell by German commandos and put in charge of the Italian Social Republic, a Nazi puppet state. Mussolini’s new assignment would prove to be short-lived. In less than two years the former dictator would be executed, and his body ripped apart by an angry mob.
Italy did not perform well in WWII. The Italian economy was not able to support an effective industrial war machine, and Italy saw defeat in Greece, Ethiopia, and in North Africa. In 1943 Allied forces invaded Sicily, and with the noose gradually tightening, the High Council of Fascism voted Mussolini out of power.
Italy was not well-positioned going into World War II. The Italian economy was still largely agricultural, and its industrial output was small compared with every other European great power. Also, Mussolini felt himself more and more unable to control Hitler. At the 1938 Munich conference Mussolini brokered a deal between Nazi Germany and the other European powers that gave Hitler the Sudetenland in return for not invading Czechoslovakia. A few months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia anyway. Mussolini’s deal was kaput, and the Italian dictator was revealed to be powerless over Hitler.
Despite being a regime birthed in martial rhetoric and symbolism, fascist Italy was in no shape, economically or diplomatically at the start of World War II. Instead of leaping into the conflict alongside it’s ally, Germany, Italy wouldn’t join the war until 1940.
This week’s episode is an interview with Meagan Zurn (or “Zee,” co-producer of The British History Podcast) about Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was a socialist, journalist, and briefly a member of the Italian parliament before getting thrown in jail by Mussolini’s regime in 1926. He died in prison in 1937. His writings, especially his prison writings, outlined the relationship of power and culture, and his insights are especially useful for understanding the rise of fascism in Italy, as well as how power and hegemony function everywhere else.
Italian fascism came to power (and solidified power) by co-opting existing political organizations and interests in Italy. That included the Catholic Church. Since Italian Unification the Church had been at odds with liberal Italy, and for fifty-nine years pope did not even set foot outside the Vatican. In 1929, though Mussolini offered the papacy a way out, with the creation of Vatican City as an independent state. Unfortunately, this would not go entirely well for the church.
After Mussolini proclaimed dictatorship in January of 1925 fascist Italy became the first modern totalitarian state. The regime extended its power and influence to everything from the national and local government, to the press, to unions, and even to the private lives of ordinary Italians.
Following the March on Rome Mussolini and the fascists cemented their grasp on power via an electoral reform known as the Acerbo Law, voter suppression and intimidation in the 1924 election, and (possibly) by killing one of their biggest opponents, the socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti.