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Can you be a fascist, Paolo Di Canio, without being a racist?

A lot has been made of Sunderland Football Club’s new manager Paolo Di Canio’s previous comments and actions, that have been expressly fascist in nature. The accusations, that Di Canio now call “ridiculous and pathetic”, include giving roman salutes to A.S. Roma fans (who are known to have a wide Jewish following), a recorded interview in 2005 where Di Canio said he was a fascist, not a racist, and a ‘Dux’ tattoo on his arm referring to Il Duce, Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

He has once described Mussolini as “basically a very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood”. To be rather (too) charitable to Di Canio, when he says Mussolini was misunderstood, this probably refers to the notion that unlike in Germany, Italian fascism was primarily predicated on authoritarianism, not race hatred. Indeed Di Canio says today that, apart from the fact he is not a politician and dislikes taking questions about his previous comments, that he has never disliked anybody – a further denial of his possible racism.

Indeed it has to be said that there are some who like and admire Mussolini for what he was said to have done for Italy as an imperial nation. Silvio Berlusconi is one example (though this doesn’t exclude other reasons why he may admire him). On reading his letters, Berlusconi pointed out that the fascist leader felt Italy almost ungovernable, and that during and after Il Duce Italy had become a strong, blosoming democracy. As Richard Evans pointed out in a review, when a journalist picked Berlusconi up on this point, he replied: ‘Well, it was a democracy in a minor way.’

Berlusconi went one further, telling the Spectator magazine in 2003: “Mussolini did not murder anyone. Mussolini sent people on holiday to confine them”. We know Berlusconi aready has some odd definitions of what a holiday might be, telling some of the 17,000 people who were made homeless after an earthquake hit the Abruzzo region in Italy, that they should see their poorly resourced temporary accomodation as “a weekend of camping”. But all in all Berlusconi displays a not uncommon denialism about the tenure of fascism.

In the mausoleum where Mussolini’s body is interred, as Evans further notes, the visitors booklet has many messages treating the fascist leader almost as a religious one. One message reads: ‘Only under your wise guidance did Italy become a “nation”, a nation that was feared, respected, fruitful and envied’, while another says: ‘If you could see how low our poor Italy has sunk … return, reincarnated in one of us! Now and forever.’

It has been said of Di Canio that his love of Mussolini is based on nothing more than an appreciation of his country becoming a strong nation, an avowed approval of authortiarianism as a means of dealing with an Italy in crisis, which echoes many of the sentiments above. But you have to be willfully ignorant or lie to yourself, and others, if you disregard the racism of Mussolini, and the racist policies that were pursued under his rule during the twenties, thirties and forties.

After Mussolini’s plan to settle a quarter of a million Italians in Ethiopia, it was predicted by, among others, the British Marxist JBS Haldane that the invaders would “interbreed with the Ethiopians“, and thus lead to “a considerable influx of African blood into Italy”. Responding straight away to this prospect, the fascist newspaper Gazzetta del Popolo carried an article entitled “The fascist Empire cannot be an empire of half-castes”.

Aaron Gillette, in his book Racial theories in Fascist Italy, pointed out that Mussolini felt some superiority over countries like America where in some areas blacks had surpassed the white population in number. He had become concerned with the low birth rates of the white race in contrast to the African and Asian races and once said in a 1921 speech in Bologna that “Fascism was born… out of a profound, perennial need of this our Aryan and Mediterranean race”.

Gillette in his book also shows, from Mussolini’s speeches, him saying “The singular, enormous problem is the destiny of the white race. Europe is truly towards the end of its destiny as the leader of civilization” and that only through natality (birth rate control) and eugenics could this be reversed.

This is the man who Paolo Di Canio has a “fascination” with. The new Sunderland manager says he is not a racist, but merely a fascist. But as Mussolini said himself fascism was born out of the need for white superiority. Di Canio has been said to have “thought a lot about fascism” and is clearly not ignorant of what he has signed himself up for, by praising the former fascist leader of his native Italy. That Fifa has not sought to investigate this further sends out a dangerous signal to fans of the game that in some cases fascism will be tolerated.


  1. Matty says:

    Good article and good to see that plenty of Sunderland fans are taking a stance against this appointment. As for the Chief Exec of AFC Sunderland she is quoted as saying

    “To accuse him now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club.” He is not being accused of having fascist sympathies, the guy himself has said he is a fascist. You do wonder if they even thought about his politics for a nano-second or were aware of them.

  2. John p Reid says:

    Just because Mussolini says something doesnt make it factual, fascism was around before it was linked to fascism, what of left wing fascism, Stalinism, terrorism or trade union fascism, of the closed shop, they were fascists but not racists, and Franco was a fascist but not a racist, similar, Enoch was a racist but not a fascist,

    So people can be fascists without being racists

  3. Carl Packman says:

    Yes John I can see that, but Di Canio knows that Mussolini is both a racist and a fascist, so it is disingenuous to bracket the two when referring to il Duce. Plus lets be clear: Di Canio is a racist

  4. Andy Newman says:

    “trade union fascism, of the closed shop,”

    Astounding that you even take yourself seriously with a comment like that.

  5. Carl Packman says:

    Sorry, yes, was going to mention that: what on earth is trade union fascism?

  6. Tom Blackburn says:

    LOL at comparing closed shops to fascism. An utterly ludicrous remark. An insult to the millions murdered and oppressed by actual fascist regimes over the years.

  7. John p Reid says:

    Andy Newman Tom Clarke, see Norman tebbit and Keith Joseph’s comments on the ferrymen 5 and their sacking from their jobs for refusing to join a union in75′ and then being told they had no one to blamebut themselves for being sacked and refused. Unemployment benefit, the times newspaper said of Michael foot for introducing the closed shop, it wasn’t whethermichael foot was a fascist for introducing the closed shop, the question was Michael foot didn’t realise he was one

  8. John p Reid says:

    Sorry should have been ferry bridge 5′ damn corrective text,

  9. John p Reid says:

    Tom blackburn my party the Labour Party is compared to crypto communism by Mrs Thatcher, is the Labour Party being called crypto communist an insult to the millions of people killed by communists,

  10. Tom Blackburn says:

    Well John, Thatcher’s remark was certainly ignorant and offensive hyperbole – a bit like your original comment.

    To be honest, John, I’ve seen your comments on this blog and others, and it seems to me you’re always straining at the leash to take a pop at the left, however tenuous the connection. If you’re looking for a centre-right, anti-union party then there are two currently in government – you’re perfectly at liberty to join either one of them.

  11. John reid says:

    I am perfectly entitled to join the coalition, when I joined the labour party in 97 we still supported the closed shop But Blair got rid of our support within a year,i don’t think thathcers (actually it was tebbit and Jospehs) was offensive if you go on wikipedia,

    it was Foot who insulted tebbit, also seeing as the whole of the poitcal specturnm swung behin Thatcher to get rid of the closed shop and when loaubr stood on its reintrroducation in 83 and 87 we had our worse two results ever, i’d hardly call it hyperbole,

  12. That well-known far-right outlet, the BBC, has pointed out that the group to which di Canio belonged in Italy carried out charity work in Africa, what they oppose is immigration. As the next general election approaches, just watch the Labour MPs line up to do the same thing, ie oppose immigration. Either both they and di Canio are not guilty of being racists, or…

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