You are on page 1of 255

Studies in modern capitalism fitudessur le capitalisme moderne

Fascism in Popular Memory

The Cultural Experience of the Turin Working Class
Studies in modern capitalism fitudes sur le capitalism moderne

Editorial board Comite de redaction

Maurice Aymard, Maison des Sciences de PHomme, Paris
Jacques Revel, ficole des Hautes fitudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris
Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies,
Historical Systems, and Civilizations, Binghamton, New York

This series is devoted to an attempt to comprehend capitalism as a world-system. It

will include monographs, collections of essays and colloquia around specific themes,
written by historians and social scientists united by a common concern for the study
of large-scale long-term social structure and social change.
The series is a joint enterprise of the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris
and the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems,
and Civilizations at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Other books in the series

Maurice Aymard (ed.): Dutch capitalism and world capitalism/Capitalism* hollandais et
capitalisme mondial
Ivan T. Berend, Gyorgy Ranki: The European periphery and industrialization, 1780-1914
Pierre Bourdieu: Algeria 1960
Andre Gunder Frank: Mexican agriculture 1521-1630: transformation of the mode of
Folker Frobel, Jiirgen Heinrichs, Otto Kreye: The new international division of labour:
structural unemployment in industrialized countries and industrialization in developing
Caglar Keyder: The definition of a peripheral economy: Turkey 1923-1929
Peter Kriedte, Hans Medicak, Jiirgen Schlumbohm: Industrialization before
industrialization: rural industry in the genesis of capitalism
Bruce McGowan: Economic life in Ottoman Europe: taxation, trade and the struggle for the
land, 1660-1800
Ernest Mandel: Long waves of capitalist development: the Marxist interpretation
Michael Morineau: Ces incroyables gazettes et fabuleux metaux: les retours des tresors
americains, d'apres les gazettes hollandaises (16e-18e siecles)
Henry H. Stahl: Traditional Romanian village communities: the transition from the communal
to the capitalist mode ofproduction in the Danube region
Immanuel Wallerstein: The capitalist world-economy: essays
Immanuel Wallerstein: The politics of the world-economy: the states, the movements and the
Antoni Maczak, Henryk Samsonowicz and Peter Burke (eds.): East-central Europe in
transition: from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century
Lucette Valensi: Tunisian peasants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Huri Islamoglu-Inan (ed.): The Ottoman empire and the world-economy
Georges Haupt: Aspects of international socialism 1871-1914: essays
Fascism in Popular Memory
The Cultural Experience of the Turin Working Class

Translated by

The right of the

University of Cambridge
to print and sell
all manner of books
was granted by
Henry VIII in 1534.
The University has printed
and published continuously
since 1584.

Cambridge University Press

London New York New Rochelle Melbourne Sydney

Editions de la Maison des Sciences de PHomme

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi

Cambridge University Press

The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

With Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme

54 Boulevard Raspail, 75270 Paris Cedex 06, France

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

Originally published in Italy as Torino operaia e Fascismo

by Gius. Laterza and Figli Spa 1984
and Gius. Laterza and Figli Spa 1984
First published in English by Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and
Cambridge University Press 1987 as Fascism in Popular Memory
English translation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and
Cambridge University Press 1987

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception

and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without the written
permission of the copyright holder.

This digitally printed version 2009

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Passerini, Luisa.
Fascism in popular memory.
(Studies in modern capitalism)
Translation of: Torino operaia e fascismo.
1. Turin (Italy) - Politics and government - 1860-1954.
2. Fascism Italy Turin History 20th century Sources.
3. Labor and laboring classes - Italy - Turin - Interviews.
4. Turin (Italy) - social conditions. 5. Oral history.
I. Title. II. Series.
DG975.T97P3713 1987 945'.12 86-17179

ISBN 978-0-521-30290-6 hardback

ISBN 978-0-521-10878-2 paperback
In memory of my father, his
sense of humour and love of life

Preface page ix

1 Oral sources and the historical study of culture 1
2 The stages of research 4
3 The interviewees 10


1 Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation
1 Gallery of self-portraits 19
2 A double representation of self 19
3 'We were born Socialists' 23
4 Irreverence 25
5 Women's traditions 28
6 The mask of the fool 32
7 A choice of poverty 34
8 Other life-choices 37
9 The worker as 'demiurge' 42
10 Upward mobility 46
11 The many meanings of work 48
12 Forms of identification with the work process and production 51
13 Knowing how to amuse oneself 55
14 Concluding hypotheses 59


2 Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life
1 The memory of Fascism 67
viii Contents

2 Everyday political speech 70

3 Resistance to the language of totalitarianism 74
4 Song 80
5 Laughter 85
6 The popular comic tradition 93
7 Clean-up (Bonified) and Vendetta 96
8 The appropriation of red 101
9 Representations of Mussolini and of the Fascists 106
10 Fascism and popular culture 112
11 Cultural identity and Fascism as evil 122


3 Forms of social acceptance of Fascism
1 The values of order 129
2 Differences in standards of living 133
3 Mediations 138
4 Public/private 144
4 Resistance to demographic policy
1 Recollections of the campaign to raise the birth-rate 150
2 Birth-control practices 157
3 Fiora's story 167
4 Features of abortion in the Fascist period 174
5 Mussolini's visit to Mirafiori
1 The tradition 183
2 An account of the events 189
3 Symbolic meanings 195

Appendix 201
Notes 209
Index 242

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who told me their
life-stories; as the protagonists of the book they have not only made a vital
contribution to this work but have made possible for me one of the most
important experiences of the last few years.
A research project of this kind requires many and varied contributions. I
owe thanks to Guido Quazza who, by asking me to take part in the research he
headed for the Ministry of Education on 'The daily life and material culture of
the lower classes in Piedmont in the twentieth century', allowed me to
undertake the major part of the research used in this book. I owe thanks to
Giovanni Levi for inviting me to participate in the research carried out under
the aegis of the Assessorato alia Cultura of the city of Turin which prepared
the section on Borgo San Paolo at the exhibition 'Turin between the two
wars'. I am also grateful to the officials of the Assessorato alia Cultura of the
Region of Piedmont for entrusting me with the co-ordination of a part of the
research on working-class cultures in Turin which provided me with another
opportunity to collect and analyse oral material. My thanks also to the Istituto
Friends and colleagues helped me through their encouragement and critical
comment, which I hope I have succeeded, at least in part, in integrating in
this final version of the book. I want, above all, to thank: Leonardo Ceppa,
Paola Di Cori, Paul Ginsborg, Patrizia Guerra, Raffaella Lamberti, Stefano
Musso, Gianna Pomata, Franco Rositi, Lucetta Scaraffia, Sergio Sinchetto,
Nicola Tranfaglia.
The suggestions made by Mario Missori of the Archivio dello Stato,
Emanuele Marino and Francesca Cecchin of the Istituto Luce, Mara Bini of
the Discoteca di Stato, and Silvia Baldelli of the Biblioteca Alessandrina in
Rome have all been extremely useful in enriching the research with sources
other than the oral testimonies.
Albina Malerba and Lidia Sinchetto transcribed many of the interviews
with care as well as providing me with ideas for interpreting some of the
x Preface
aspects of the life-histories. Officials and assistants of the associations I
contacted gave me invaluable assistance, especially in putting me in touch
with people.
Finally, I am indebted to my students for the academic years 1976-77 to
1982-3 for their constructive criticism and enthusiasm for research using oral

1 Oral sources and the historical study of culture

Oral testimonies are used in this work for what they tell us, directly and
indirectly, about the everyday side of culture. This is taken to include the
following: the 'mentalities' characteristic of (though not exclusive to) the
working population; the understanding of the world passed down from
generation to generation through oral tradition; the conflicts of power that
take place on a cultural and symbolic plane rather than within a narrow
political sphere. This approach to oral sources, which need to be used in
conjunction with other sources, opens the way for analysis of behaviour in
The research began with the conviction - confirmed during the course of
the work - that essential for an understanding of history is not just knowledge
of the lives of obscure and ordinary individuals (all of us, in one way or
another), but information about the ideas feeding into their everyday
experience. It is true that these ideas (self-images, myths, stories and jokes)
are for the most part belied by reality. And yet, all these mental represen-
tations are the other face of reality, which includes and is shaped by them. A
parallel can perhaps be drawn with the way dreams during sleep are
indispensable to life during waking hours. Out of this arises the curious life led
by mental representations - their constant ambivalence, their power to form
diverse associations in a dynamic of continuity and change, being both
functional to and distinct from the social division of labour.
To succeed in 'seeing' and analysing symbolic and cultural phenomena, it
is necessary to draw on conceptual tools which are both valuable and at the
same time problematic. The most obvious example is the concept of'collective
representations' which recurs implicitly throughout this book. The merits of
this concept, developed by Durkheim at the end of the last century, must be
acknowledged in that it laid the basis for historical study of elementary
cultural forms. By stressing the 'obligatory' and hence social character of
2 Introduction

many beliefs and representations, Durkheim removed them from the domain
of 'human nature' to restore them to society, assigning them an autonomous
and truly cultural existence. His analysis not only recognised the existence of
mental representations, but saw in them the outcome of a vast co-operative
effort, stretching across time and space, and involving the accumulated
experience of generation after generation.1
Certainly the 'marvellous properties' of collective representations are left
unclear because of their ambiguous status in Durkheim's system of thought
and their character as objectified entities which vitiates the relationship of the
individual and the collective. Yet, it seemed to me better not to relinquish the
richness of that concept, despite its ambiguities and contradictions. On the
contrary, a piece of historical research like this could help in reassessing the
concept rather than rejecting it outright. Obviously, the theoretical reassess-
ment will not be undertaken in this work. Here an open-minded approach has
been adopted as befits empirical research. This means using concepts which
promote analysis without first attempting to resolve all the related theoretical
problems. However, one must be careful to correct certainflawswhich, even if
not there to begin with, are by now intrinsic to ideas such as 'collective
representations'. Above all, there is the tendency to understate the role of the
individual in the consideration and utilisation of such ideas. Consequently
'collective representations' is interpreted with the accent on it as an 'entity'
rather than as a process. Instead, what is needed is a recognition that 'culture'
is a term that applies as much to the ideas, convictions and outlook on the
world of broad social groups, as to those of the educated elite.
The work is also deeply indebted to the influence of anthropology, and, in
particular, to the methodology of Bronislaw Malinowski. Even if criticism can
be levelled at his approach, Malinowski makes a major contribution when he
distinguishes between the analysis of forms of real-life behaviour, and the
recording of typical narratives, ethnographic and other material that docu-
ment the collective mentality under study. He draws a sharp line between, on
the one hand, the personal opinions of informants and beliefs incorporated in
institutions and traditions, and on the other, the actual forms of behaviour.
This approach to the analysis of the social and cultural organisation of
communities is indispensable for the interpretation of oral sources, even if
participant observation is not possible.2
Finally, it is necessary to place this work in the context of traditional
historical research. In Italy, at least, oral sources and the study of everyday
phenomena have a problematic relationship to the mainstream tradition.
Contemporary historical research, unlike work in the social sciences, has
renounced its right to study fields such as the life and urban culture of the
working classes, which call out for historical analysis.
Related to this is the historians' refusal to think about the status of their
discipline and about its methodological basis. Contemporary Italian historio-
Oral sources and the historical study of culture 3

graphy remains enthralled by what Ernesto De Martino called the 'ingenuous

belief in history as past and something outside oneself. 3 It is an irony of
history - history in the sense of men's actions - that what is written about it so
largely ignores the personal lives of individuals in the very period (the past
hundred years) when individual subjectivity has been transformed, becoming
an important area of scientific study and political interest. It seems vital that
historical research, too, should join other disciplines in recognising the
importance of such developments. Furthermore, a historical approach can
make a contribution by showing that phenomena sometimes seen as 'natural'
and 'unchanging' are, in fact, cultural and subject to change.
There is no shortage of methodologies and case studies, whether historical
or belonging to other disciplines, which engage in this enterprise. A notable
example is the French school of historiography, which attached great
importance to the study of the 'mentalities' of social groups and classes and to
the history of ideas. Lucien Febvre spoke of the study of sensibilities and
collective psychology as offering a 'magnificent field for research, reconstruc-
tion and interpretation' - a field which the 'historian does not have the right to
It is not difficult to see that the present work is provisional by comparison.
If, following Febvre's directions, it is a question of producing a detailed
classification and reconstruction of the mental map of a given epoch, this work
only sketches a preliminary outline. However, analysis of mental attitudes
and forms of behaviour can also contribute towards a history of culture as
opposed to a history of behaviour.
It is perhaps the absence of historical studies of culture in the sense of an
'ensemble of intellectual and moral activities' which still prevents us from
formulating a new general theory of culture. More than twenty years ago,
Raymond Williams noted that this objective would already have been within
reach if only people had stopped bemoaning the fact that we live in an
ever-changing culture and got on with making a critical study of the
relationship between the culture of the past and that of the present. However,
one needs to be clear that to fulfil this ambition it is essential to formulate a
concept of culture which acknowledges the specific and constitutive role in
any society of 'mental activities freed from an immediate practical applica-
Despite the limitations of this work, it does attempt to engage current
political problems. It is particularly important. for those seeking to create
political cultures which combine novel aspirations for universality with
respect for local and individual realities that the mental and intellectual
features of everyday life are acknowledged. These aspects of the life of
subordinate classes should be recognised and studied in their own right, and
not treated as simply determined by material conditions and patterns of
behaviour. Such a recognition implies the need to reconstruct a whole area of
4 Introduction

'reality'. The relationship between the 'symbolic' and the 'real' demands to be
more adequately analysed. Following what Gramsci wrote about folklore,
which he regarded as embodying conceptions of the world, 'lesser forms' of
cultural life should equally be treated as 'serious subjects worthy of study'. 6 A
life-story is also a serious business, and can, if treated with due rigour,
become the object of scientific inquiry.

2 The stages of research

This research was started with the intention of gathering together workers'
memories of Fascism. Until now, collections of memoirs and historical studies
have documented memories of the regime as recalled by the middle classes,
intellectuals and the more politicised sections of the working class. There is an
attempt here to makeroom also for factory workers who might not have been
activists or militants. Moreover, particular attention is paid not only to the
content of their memories but also to the form which those memories take;
that is to say, to the cultural and symbolic import of their stories. The research
sought to substantiate the anxieties aroused by certain images used to
describe the working class under the Fascist dictatorship. These images and
stereotypes present the working class as so remote from other social classes
that it might as well be a different race. It remains 'uncontaminated' even in
defeat. Conversely, the working class is presented as automatically offering its
consent to the regime without any analysis of the cultural and social
conditions which help explain its behaviour.
The historiography of the labour movement in Italy is made up of studies
which deal, above all, with the periods before and after Fascism. Meanwhile,
the analysis of the specific problems of a working class forbidden to engage in
its historical forms of organisation and struggle has yet to be fully developed.
The historiography of the pre-Fascist period has given us the image of a
working class which is internally highly differential owing to the uneven
development and relative backwardness of Italian industry. It is a question of
stratification according to sector, company size, skills, and the striking
features of localism (as witnessed by the different dialects and the multiplicity
of cultural traditions). However, such a working class made up for its
structural weakness with a high level of politicisation and militancy. In fact,
immediately following the First World War, great advances were made by the
union movement; as a consequence, the majority of urban workers were
organised into pro-socialist unions.7
As far as the period which follows is concerned, the social history of the
working class must contend with serious problems of documentation and
theorisation. There is the absence of the traditional sources for the history of
the labour movement during the Fascist period because of the destruction of
The stages of research 5

all its historical organisations. Hence, we do not have the documents of parties
and unions, friendly societies, clubs and co-operatives. It is also true that
other sources, not only police records but statistics and of course the press, are
ultimately particularly distorted under an authoritarian regime. However,
even greater is the problem of theorisation. It is a question of conceiving of a
working class different from the one whose image has been handed down to us
in almost all the existing historiography: that is, an image of a class directly
and totally opposed to the existing order, although 'betrayed' by its reformist
It may seem difficult to apply the stereotype of a class totally in opposition
to a working class which has lived through 20 years of Fascist dictatorship.
Yet the historiography of the post-war period has shown a propensity to keep
alive the image of a working class staunchly faithful to the revolutionary
traditions handed down from generation to generation. Such an attitude is
even more marked in the case of working-class Turin, which is characterised
by its political record of factory occupations, workers' councils, and the
Gramscian Ordine Nuovo experience.
Some texts, whose value is undiminished in other respects, give the
impression of consistent anti-fascism and unwavering participation by the
whole class (not just a limited nucleus) in clandestine opposition organised by
those in exile. This vision corresponds, in fact, to the conception of an
unbroken line between the class and its organisations.8 The perpetuation of
such an image (dented only by the 'odd show of consent' at the time of the
Ethiopian War) makes it impossible to understand to what extent a class
undergoes and survives the experience of defeat.
And yet, contemporary opponents of Fascism had recognised that there
were serious problems in the form of indifference and apathy (especially
among younger workers), lack of communication between generations, and a
split between action at the economic level and its political implications.9 A
classic example is Togliatti's illuminating analysis of Fascism's hold over the
working class. Togliatti suggested that the regime's strength was based on the
satisfaction of certain fundamental needs ignored by the old Socialist tradi-
tion. These included the need for better material conditions, social welfare,
and cultural and sporting activities:
It's time to stop thinking that workers should not take part in sports. Workers don't
look down on even the smallest gains. The worker always looks for the slightest thing
that he can find to improve his situation. Even the fact of having the opportunity to go
somewhere and listen to the radio of an evening is a pleasure. We can't take it out on a
worker who agrees to go there, just because the sign of the Fascio is inscribed over the
Togliatti also pointed out the danger that even the old leaders might adapt
themselves to Fascism, slowly letting themselves be absorbed by structures
6 Introduction

such as the dopolavoro (the Fascist 'after-work' leisure organisation): adapt-

ation which is at first simulated and could progressively turn into genuine
It seems that within this argument there is a growing awareness of the
innate ambivalence found in the needs of the masses and their consequent
susceptibility to manipulation by Fascism and capitalism. From this his-
torical perspective, the partial satisfaction of material needs diverted the
masses from the path leading towards social renewal and radical change.
Togliatti's analysis runs the risk of focussing exclusively on party initiative
which is counterposed to the inertia of the masses, although it provides a basic
starting-point for understanding the situation of the working class under
Renzo De Felice in some ways took up this analysis when he maintained
that for a brief period, from 1929 to 1934, the working class, too, conferred a
considerable degree of consent on the Fascist regime. According to him, this
consent was based on the material security guaranteed by the regime through
maintaining the value of real wages, the provision of social welfare in various
forms, and job creation.11 The material component, at least for some sections
of the working class, certainly played a part in the acceptance of Fascism (see
chapter 3, section 2), even though it is difficult to measure to what extent and
degree. However, focussing exclusively on this aspect disregards two crucial
considerations: first, that acceptance of the social order should not be
confused with approval of the regime; and, secondly, there is, once again, a
failure to conceptualise subjectivity and consciousness, which are treated as
reflecting material conditions. Analysis must take into account the determin-
ing role of the cultural traditions of the class and the labour movement.
It is strange that historians who deal with the labour movement should not
have made historical analyses of these cultural traditions. One possible
explanation for this could be the failure of historians to confront the working
class's ambivalence towards Fascism and to link it to areas of life not directly
related to politics. Marxist historians are a case in point. The 'traditional
Marxists' conflate the subjectivity of the working class with its principal
historical organisations. Single individuals are treated as separate or irrele-
vant, while the working class is considered incapable of being autonomous
unless through the power of its organisations.12
Another approach which is widespread in the historical accounts of the
New Left presents workers' subjectivity as antagonistic by nature to the whole
of the existing order and as entirely contained within spontaneous outbursts of
protest. All that is needed, then, are the factory struggles of the early thirties
for these accounts to speak of'the readiness for protest - in itself "political" -
against the regime'. 13 Once again, workers' subjectivity is thought of as
automatically political, and not liable to manipulation or ambiguity.
Research of a more limited scope which deals with the working class in
The stages of research 7
particular situations and periods continuously shows, on the contrary, the
existence of an area of behaviour and attitudes not belonging to the political
sphere in the strict sense. This draws attention to the complexity of the
subjectivity that mediates the relationship between class and power; it is a
cultural complexity against which the terms consent and dissent need to be
assessed, and continuities with and differences from the preceding period
measured. This very complexity becomes apparent in research using oral
sources. In the case of the present work, too, no answers to the problem of
consent have been directly arrived at, but the aim is to explore the importance
of the cultural aspects of the relationship between Fascism and the working
classes. Before going on to analyse the nature of such a contribution, it will be
useful to say something about how the oral testimonies were collected.
The testimonies on which this book is based were selected from a more
extensive series of interviews carried out between 1976 and 1981. Preference
was given to the most complete ones, without applying any criteria of
significance. The subjects were all born before 1922 and came to Turin in the
early thirties. The criteria of selecting subjects who had worked for the large
part of their lives in factories was rigidly applied to the men only (with the
exception of one case - an ex-worker activist who was disabled), while the
selection process followed more complex criteria for the women. Women who
had had a father or husband who were workers were also included, provided
that they had lived in a working-class environment. Apart from anything, it is
difficult to classify the women by their work. Their biographies confirm that
they were usually housewives for short periods only. Moreover, domestic
labour (when not 'out-work' in the full sense) was supplemented by doing odd
jobs for neighbours and others in return for some payment. In many cases, the
women returned to more stable jobs when their child-rearing days were over.
The 67 people who are presented here were contacted in a variety of ways
(for figures, see appendix 5). Of these, 24 were reached initially through
interviewers' contacts, and then by following up the leads provided by the
networks of relatives of friends of those interviewed. Not many were reached
through channels of an ideological complexion: 11 through the unions, party
branches, labour movement clubs; 7 through parishes and oratories. Old
people's homes and veterans' and ex-servicemen's associations were the
source for 25 contacts. Out of the 67 subjects, 51 were interviewed by me,
more or less at length, and I sought to get to know in person those others
whom I had not interviewed. The experience of interviewing considerably
more people than the 67 included here was extremely helpful for developing
an understanding of the period and drawing comparisons. I also used
published collections of biographies, which, however, are regrettably not
explicit about the research procedures adopted.
As for my method of gathering material, I always followed this procedure:
after briefly introducing the research (a history of the everyday life of the
8 Introduction

Turin working class financed by a university institute and local bodies), I

would ask them first to tell their life-stories. I quickly learnt to avoid phrases
like: 'from the beginning', 'from your birth' which imposed a chronological
order, thereby interfering with the sequence of association in recalling the past
which they arrived at themselves.
To respect memory also means letting it organise the story according to the
subject's order of priorities. During the course of the story, I would ask ques-
tions designed to probe, get additional information, and clarify questions of
time, place and intention without having to resort to further questioning on
the matter. It entailed accepting, instead, the sequence of narration as it
slowly threw up new questions and information.14
I prepared a questionnaire after a certain number of preliminary interviews
which served essentially to get the dialogue going on those occasions when
difficulties arose at the start of the autobigraphical account. It also helped me
keep a check on what the subject was saying when the occasion arose (see, for
example, the section of the questionnaire in appendix 1) dealing with work. In
addition to asking to hear their life-stories, I would ask what the subject
remembered of the Fascist period.
Following this procedure of listening, sometimes the biographical data col-
lected was incomplete. Little information was volunteered about dates, places
of birth, and schooling, and sometimes important aspects of private life, like
marriage or children, were passed over in silence. If I had not repeatedly
returned to the subjects, even just for unrecorded conversations, we would not
have had the data contained in the appendix at our disposal.
The request for personal histories, while designed to inquire into everyday
life, stimulates references to the exceptional - the things that make one indi-
vidual different from another. A questionnaire, however, implicitly suggests
that it is uniformity that counts, along with numbers and classifications over
and above the individual. By encouraging subjects to present themselves as
unique and irreplaceable through an autobiographical account, therefore,
induces them to reveal their cultural values, and hence, paradoxically, throws
light on stereotypes and shared ideas.
While it is necessary to be aware that the method of collecting source mater-
ial affects the sources themselves, one cannot hold them to be the product of the
interview situation alone. When someone is asked for his life-story, his
memory draws on pre-existing story-lines and ways of telling stories, even if
these are in part modified by the circumstances. This gives us the possibility of
uncovering what other methods of collecting material would have left buried.
It is basically a question of following the methods of folklore study and anthro-
pology in a socially heterogeneous environment. The form that the interview
takes, then, is that of a semi-structured conversation, which, in some cases, as
in my research, is more concerned with drawing out forms of cultural identity
and shared traditions than with the factual aspects of social history.15
The stages of research 9

However, the recorded interviews represent only a part of the research

documentation. This is also based, like every technique in the field, on direct
observation and non-verbal communication. The narrative discourse acts as
a bridge between these different periods of time; hence the importance we
attach to recordings. Yet they would be incomprehensible without reference
to what determined them. My research, therefore, uses as sources not only
the documentary material collected (about 130 hours of recording, the tran-
scription of part of it - and some 2,000 pages of type - and the notes from
unrecorded sessions), but also the actual experience of the relationship with
those interviewed. This is the reason why their contribution is central to my
interpretation. 16
Apart from collecting the testimonies, I set out on paths of research fol-
lowing up what had been said. This involved tracking down other primary
and secondary sources supporting or refuting the oral evidence. In this way,
similarities and differences in expression emerged in relation to other cul-
tural forms, above all written autobiographies. On the other hand, with
regard to life's little episodes17 recounted in anecdotes, the oral sources sent
me back to other sources, also originally oral, such as police records and
reports of trials involving infringements of the law of a non-political nature.
Here important convergences can be noted where the oral and written testi-
monies coincide in documenting the resistance - at times ambiguous -
embodied in some cultural forms and behaviour patterns, along with the
pragmatic acceptance of Fascist domination. Finally, the testimonies, by
their nature, refer back to other oral sources, such as the recordings of
official speeches and visual material like the Istituto Luce's documentary
My progress through the archives alerted me to the forms taken by oral
traditions passed down a long time before being transcribed, with pre-
dictable distortions. So in that sense too this is a work of oral history in so far
as it seeks to uncover a culture of the spoken word as it was transmitted daily
through various media. It is, however, saddening to see the condition of the
sound and film archives in Italy, and to witness the destruction and neglect
of precious recorded material.
Despite my efforts over the years, I have collected and followed up only a
small part of the historically pertinent ideas coming out of the life-histories.
They constitute a varied and disjointed body of material made up of discon-
nected and scattered elements. However, we should not treat it as the last
word on an issue, nor as an exhaustive body of evidence. There remain pas-
sages of autobiography that cannot be codified, explained or interpreted.
Here we come up against the brick-wall of reality where words and subjec-
tive formulations seem to meet the immovable obstacle of the 'natural'. To
this category belong the ephemera, the small-talk about 'how we were,' and
the stereotyping too worn by daily repetition for analysis to be able to tease
10 Introduction

them apart to discover the symbolic meanings of the narrative or the material
of social and cultural history.

3 The interviewees
Research in the archives added to those I had interviewed face-to-face a host
of other characters caught up in the small events of their daily lives - all
equally 'insignificant' in terms of History with a capital 'H'. These characters
greatly broadened the frame of reference of the cultural processes under
review. The memories of those interviewed remain the backbone of the book,
yet it is essential that these are placed against the background of the histories
of the working class in the Fascist period, even though they are neither very
rich in information nor definitive in what they have to say.
The group of interviewees is not representative in the sense that this term is
used in sociological research. The 'trustworthiness5 and 'accuracy' of data
used in research is, in fact, directly related to its being a 'sample'. The
representativeness of the sample is attained by methods designed to ensure
both the randomness of the selection and correspondence, 'within reason',
with other data employed for cross-reference.18
However, the group is now representative in the sense proposed, with
specific reference to oral sources, by researchers at Essex University headed
by Paul Thompson. In Thompson's book, The Edwardians, the group of
interviewees is assumed to be representative of British society in the early
twentieth century. A social stratum in the past is taken to correspond to the
individual interviewee. This approach is only partially compensated for by
the overall framework within which the author locates the oral sources.19 It is
worth remembering that the research team headed by Nicole Gagnon, after
going through a similar research experience, rejected it self-critically, con-
cluding that 'thinness and incomparability' of the 150 life-histories collected
in Quebec were due to the nature of the sampling. This project aimed at
making a survey of the whole region, keeping within certain guidelines
provided by a cross-section of occupations and areas, and a concentration on
the 50-65 age group. If to all this is added the fact that the researchers had to
collect the life-histories without the aid of a comprehensive and systematic
questionnaire, using, instead, an outline of indicators of social change plus
some questions, it is understandable that the result was a series of scattered
and isolated cases which could not constitute a representative picture of
Quebec. 20
Both the above-mentioned pieces of research had a different objective from
my own in that they proposed to document changes in social reality and not
narrative modes and cultural forms. However, my work is not entirely spared
the problem of representativeness, despite the change of focus. I will seek,
therefore, to put forward some ideas on this problem which are premised on
The interviewees 11

two considerations, arising from experience of historical and social research

over the past ten years.
The first consideration concerns what is represented, which in my case is
the Turin working class of the inter-war period. It is not so important that
such an object of inquiry is much smaller than early twentieth-century British
society, or more compact than the Quebec of the 1940s, because when looked
at closely it appears an immense and many-sided universe. What discourages
attempts to represent this universe is the preliminary requirement that the
working class be fixed in a still image rather than thought of as an ensemble of
relations.21 Yet, that ensemble of relations, which has been brought to light by
recent research on the working class in the Fascist period, is what interests us.
In this perspective, the composition of the working class and its relationship to
other classes is seen to change, despite the relative rigidity of social relations
under the Fascist dictatorship.
The second consideration concerns the very relationship of representa-
tiveness itself, the 'standing for' something which is established between two
terms. Since one of the two terms, in the case of the life-history, is an
individual, we are filled with a feeling of unease at the prospect of treating him
simply as an example of something else. Because, in effect, he is never this
alone: the individual has the characteristics of a total entity, which is to say
that he effects a synthesis over and above the sum of his constituent parts.
Therefore, he always represents more than the process represented, and, at
the same time, in certain respects, less. But the tension between individual
reality and general process is what must emerge in research which aims to
safeguard the integrity of the individual. For this reason, the psychological
realm can never be completely deduced from social experience, but stands in a
polar relation to it - both opposed and linked to it.22
This is not to make post hoc rationalisations of unsystematic research
methods. On the contrary, it is the basis for assessing to what degree the
research is unsystematic as well as for evaluating its positive achievements. It
is clear that a research project like the current one has an interest in such an
assessment, that is, in testing the relationship between its object and current
knowledge of historical reality. It is concerned with whether our characters'
declarations are indicative, at least in some respects, of the nature of inter-war
working-class culture, and of the rethinking undertaken by the survivors in
subsequent years.
The biographical outlines contained in the appendix are designed exclus-
ively for the purposes of that assessment. The object of the research was not to
compile this information for the purposes of other types of analysis (i.e.
biographical and prosopographical; analyses of life cycles). This explains the
incompleteness of some data. Remember that the contents of the tables were
very often obtained through follow-up interviews and unrecorded meetings.
Those interviewed thought it irrelevant to the story-telling relationship they
12 Introduction

had established to give certain information (and undesirable to give other

information). Sometimes it was easy to reconstruct the missing data; on other
occasions, it seemed inopportune in terms of the interviewee's wishes. It was
possible to check much of the data using other documents such as employ-
ment cards or marriage certificates, and by reference to the memories of
friends and relations. Checks could also be made by examining the interview
for internal coherence; for example, for matching dates. Overall, it can be said
that most of the information provided corresponded to reality, but it must be
borne in mind that a lot of information was not given. Finally, it is worth
remembering that the tables and summaries of individual life-histories have
served as analytical tools; that is to say they form a skeleton framework on
which to hang the material.
The 67 interviewees were born between 1884 and 1922 (see appendix 2 and
7). The majority - 30 in all - were born in the period 1900-9, that is to say,
they were between 21 and 30 in 1930. These were men and women in the
prime of life, who were married and at work at the height of the Fascist era.
The older people - 17 in all - provide important points of comparison in terms
of mentality with this main group since they share experiences of the First
World War and remember an older system of production and social relations.
The youngest - 20 of them - directly felt the effects of Fascism in both primary
and secondary phases of socialisation.
Most of the interviewees were born in Piedmont (30, of whom many came
from the Vercelli area), while 27 were born in Turin itself. The figures are the
reverse for women, suggesting that it was, above all, newly urbanised women
who became workers. Few came from Northern Italy (6 from the Veneto and
Romagna, 1 from Lombardy). Very few (3 in all, and none of them women)
came from Central and Southern Italy. This social composition reflects
localised regional mobility, but not mobility over long distances. The group
bears the marks of important processes of urbanisation and migration, but it
also shows the presence of a working class born and resident in Turin. One
can conclude that our group covers the more settled workers, and that it does
not sufficiently represent the immigrant component of the working class,
especially in relation to the immigration from afar dwelt on in recent histories.
However, it is worth remembering that it was only in the second half of the
1930s that immigration from the North (excluding Piedmont) and from
Central and Southern Italy grew in significance; this reduces the degree to
which our grouping is unrepresentative. 23
Occupational mobility is, however, well represented. Here too, 'well
represented' only means that the biographies show signs of important
processes taking place in economic and social life. Above all, it is notable that
there were a large number of job changes between non-factory employment
(18 in the case of women, and 15 men), not to mention domestic out-work by
adults. The latter is mentioned by 10 women (but some men remember
The interviewees 13

having helped their mothers when they were children).Only changes between
sectors of employment are recorded here. Job changes within the same sector
were numerous enough, and would, according to a rough estimate, treble the
total number of changes (now standing at 141). The most common sector for
women is shown to be clothing (followed by engineering and chemicals),
while the men were predominantly engaged in engineering (29 out of the 70
employed in all the sectors), followed at a distance by those in metal-working.
In all, the picture of occupational mobility corresponds to Ghiara Saraceno's
observation, made with specific reference to Turin about the inter-war
working class. According to her, the continual 'entry and exit from employ-
ment' is an indication, except in the case of families with older working-class
origins, that membership of this class was a transitory experience and difficult
to make permanent. 24 It is certainly the case that this aspect is extraordinarily
accentuated if the female labour-force is taken into consideration. Behind the
movement of women between sectors of employment stand the long and short
breaks for marriage and childbirth, which were filled by various part-time or
casual jobs.
A discrepancy between the biographies and the historical data appears over
skill. Some preliminary remarks are necessary. First of all, the level of skill has
been determined with reference to the factory work done by the subject over
the longest period (thus, in some cases for women classification has been
impossible or uncertain). But, above all, it should be said that the data
concerning work skills are some of the most difficult to ascertain from
interviews. The data are eminently subject to distortion by memory, which
superimposes one period on another, and by concern for prestige. Further-
more, the object of recall is particularly hard to pin down. Scholars stress the
gaps and uncertainties in the documentation for the thirties, to which is added
the extreme complexity and changing nature of the forms of skill. Lastly, the
terms used to describe different jobs changed, just as the jobs themselves have
For all these reservations, some observations are worth making about the
subdivisions into levels of skill in the biographies. Grade one, the lowest,
includes only 3 men - labourers (manovali). All the women are evenly divided
between grade one and two. Grade three, in this classification, corresponds to
a high degree of skill and includes top grades of workers (operao spedalizzato e
qualijicato). Furthermore it includes workers with the craft skills of the older
The majority of the men (18) are classified in grade three as highly skilled.
This grade groups together skills of very different kinds, especially consider-
ing the length of time over which they are spread. In contrast, only 12 men are
placed in grade two, which is one of the more interesting since it includes the
unskilled workers (operai comuni) of the thirties, semi-skilled workers and
machine operators (manovali specializzati e addetti macchina), and some workers
14 Introduction

who, at the end of the thirties, from being skilled artisans became factory-
At the level of upward career mobility, the opportunity for promotion is
reflected in our group: 3 women became clerks, thanks to night-school and
personal effort, and 3 men became managers in the same way. Another piece
of data, however modest, confirms the tendency for membership of the
working class to be temporary: in the period after the Second World War, 5 of
those interviewed moved on to do non-factory jobs.
Of the 67 subjects, 59 are married and only 43 have children. This last piece
of data gives an exaggerated picture of the tendency for the birthrate to fall in
urban areas from the early 1900s26 especially as people were interviewed in
old peoples5 homes, rather than in a family situation.
With respect to schooling, it is notable that the women had the smallest
amount (13, as opposed to 1 man, went to school for only 1-3 years), while the
same number (17 of both sexes) had 4-6 years schooling. No women, but 13
men, had 6 years schooling. The tendency to attend night-school and courses
during holidays (17 declared that they had attended them) constituted one of
the most important forms of workers' education and advancement. 27 It needs
to be stressed that information on schooling was almost never volunteered,
and that questions designed to solicit it at a later date often provoked
embarrassed reactions.
Lastly, 20 out of 34 men did military service and, among these, a
substantial group of 10 served during the First World War. An active part in
the Resistance ('the Insurrection', as they prefer to call it) against the
Nazi-Fascists was taken by 4 men and 4 women during the Second World
This resume of the life-histories gives some indication of the social changes
affecting the working class in the first half of this century. However, the
selection of interviewees favours the relatively stable and privileged part of the
working class as measured by length of residence in the city, skill and
education. It does not properly represent the majority of the working class of
the twenties and thirties. 28 This unevenness is compensated for by the group of
women who are more occupationally mobile, less educated and less skilled.
The younger men also help to make the sample more representative.
However, one of the things shown by the research is the diffusion of so-called
'backward' cultural forms among the so-called 'advanced' sections of the
urban working class.
Lastly, there remains the problem of the ideological influences in the
present. Appendix 6 illustrates the interviewees' attitudes in relation to
politics. Very few (only 6) do not refer at all to politics, and fewer still (4 in all)
express hostility towards it, while 11 affirm their sense of distance from, or
indifference to, politics. A critical or denunciatory attitude towards the
existing order prevails among the other 46. Only 6 display conservative
The interviewees 15

attitudes, appealing to the past or to a reactionary order. On the other hand,

14 present a secular-progressive outlook, and point to the need for wide-
ranging and decisive change. That this can happen only thanks to the
Socialist and Communist Parties is made clear by 13, with the great majority
of declared preferences (8 in all) going to the latter. Frequently this is
accompanied by regret concerning the current distance separating the two
parties. The same observations apply to the 9 Left militants. Only 1 of those
interviewed said that he was in favour of the largest Italian party - the
Christian Democrats - although 4 had been activists in Catholic associations.
The preponderance of Socialist and Communist activists in the group over
Catholics and the total absence of anarchists does not entirely favour a
complete representation of positions. In some interviews the importance and
exemplary bravery of anarchist activists during the Fascist period is still
remembered, and this deserves wide research. As for the Catholics, the hold
that they exercised over the working class in the thirties has been noted.
But the research remains focussed on the non-activists. A large number of
these (19) who are practising Catholics, and 20 who are both practising and
devout, has ensured that the Catholic Church's intervention in culture and
patterns of thought has in any case been represented. Furthermore, it seemed
to me that the imbalance in the group of interviewees in favour of the Left
activists was consistent with the history of working-class Turin. It was
because of them that the class had lived through one of its politically most
advanced moments.
Coming to appendix 6i, it is interesting to note the high number of those
(14) who do not make any mention of their religious beliefs, or provide
elements from which these might be deduced. Similarly, two other pieces of
data provide a stimulus to further research; the decided anti-clericalism of the
8 old Socialist and Communist activists of whom 4 also declared some form of
non-denominational faith. This classification is, naturally, formulated in a
Catholic-centred way; the pigeon-hole marked 'other faiths' only confirms the
lack of differentiation brought about because of the State nature of religion so
that two of those interviewed included here, a Waldesian and a Jew, had had
in fact to renounce their family religion from an early age.
The classification of political and religious attitudes (for all its lack of
subdivisions due to the research not being geared towards them) reveals the
old people's political radicalism. Both their actual situation - often painful in
material and spiritual terms - and the fact that they are able to reflect
dispassionately on the state of society, undoubtedly affects this radicalism,
which in turn, influences their memories. Instead of a nostalgia for the past -
something rare enough in these autobiographical accounts - we find a
readiness to select aspects of the past that confirm the need for change in the
present, and link them to the protagonists of such change. The fact that the
present prevails in this way in these accounts, if correctly understood, is useful
16 Introduction

for analysing memory. Furthermore, it points to the possibility of establishing

greater contacts between the generations by making use of the old people's
considerable store of experience and culture.
There is another fact brought to light by these hasty classifications, and this
will be confirmed by the interviews when taken as a whole; namely, that there
is no such thing as an ordinary person to be counterposed in a hard and fast
way to the political activist. The everyday repercussions of politics concern
and interest very many 'ordinary' people. At the same time as they show the
importance of politics, the evidence of the interviews goes against the idea of
the primacy of politics in workers' lives suggested by certain histories and
activists' accounts. This is especially the case when the working class is
conceived as disembodied - a working class that is cast in the role of a
conscious force for emancipation but remains largely ethereal, without a
material existence and an everyday life.
Oral sources and the analysis of cultural

The oral sources presented in this part emphasise the subjective character of their
interpretation. This subjective dimension does not allow a direct reconstruction of the
past, but it links past and present in a combination which is laden with symbolic
significance. While these oral sources have to be placed in a proper framework, they
are highly relevant to historical analysis. These testimonies are, first and foremost,
statements of cultural identity in which memory continuously adapts received
traditions to present circumstances.
This general character of the life-histories is brought to light by examining the
recurring self-representations (autorappresentazioni). These show a strong degree of
stereotypicality, as revealed also by the difference between their message - with its
mythological and cosmological reverberations - and the other levels of the testimonies
which are the subject of parts II and III. In self-representations, narrative forms are
repeated which are affected, though not in a deterministic way, by age and gender. The
single story-telling strategies variously combine the narrative resources available,
including stereotypes, taking account of division of labour and power as well as
individual circumstances. The women, for example, above all the older interviewees,
show a preference for representing themselves as 'always having been rebels'; the men,
with a range of subtle variations, prefer to present themselves as capable workers. Such
self-images are the opposite ends of a spectrum belonging to a common culture, which
also gives rise to a variety of combinations. Then there are other self-representations
that borrow forms of expression from political and religious ideologies that give
prominance to the subjective choice of an all-embracing relationship with a trans-
cendent reality.
These classic components of working-class cultures, when viewed from outside
class-centred schemas, force one to reappraise the claim that such cultures make to
being 'different', and to break with definitions which separate them into ghettoes. If
the cultural manifestations of other social groups and generations are studied with the
same criteria we would adopt to analyse ourselves, the rigid contours of the link
culture-social-class start to blur. In the process, not only do similarities with the forms
of expression belonging to different periods and different social conditions come into
the open, but so do the influences of specifically cultural factors, such as literary
genres. Taken as a whole, oral expressions gives space to forms of 'fixed' identity
(identita senza sviluppo); that is, to autobiographical representations very different from
those found in autobiographies written under the influence of the classic novel which
centres on the development of the individual.
Memories of self: autobiography
and self-representation

1 Gallery of self-portraits
The self-representations of the subjects given in answer to our questions
follow recurrent narrative forms. The analysis of the most widespread
stereotypes takes us back to collective identities, and thereby throws light on
the hidden side of working-class culture. The commonplace elements in the
self-representations are taken to reveal cultural attitudes, visions of the world
and interpretations of history, including the role of the individual in the
historical process.
* Memory of self does not, then, refer to the psychological aspects that are at
the root of self-representations (the psychological dimension is always taken
to be the framework to which the narration in the last analysis returns, but is
never directly dealt with in this account). Instead, it refers to the transmission
and elaboration of stories handed down and kept alive through small-scale
social networks - stories which can be adapted every so often in a variety of
social interactions, including the interview.
Oral autobiographies can register commonplaces about oneself at other
points of the story, apart from the preamble through reiteration, metaphor
and recapitulation. These highly formalised devices of narration are distinct
from the aspects of the life-story which reflect everyday life. In the latter, one
often comes across the 'mechanical retelling5 Bachtin mentions in relation to
memoirs and autobiographies, in which there is no sense of continuity and the
individual's life is taken in isolation; there are neither fathers nor gener-
ations.1 On the contrary, self-representations seize on key features involving
fathers and generations - the personal memory combines with the collective
memory, and individual mythology turns into a tradition shared by a family, a
circle of friends or a political group.

2 A double representation of self

The oldest of our subjects, Maddalena Bertagna, born in Turin in 1884,
recounts an episode in her life in which she was the protagonist:
20 Oral sources and cultural identities

Once, a near thing ... We went on a demonstration in Piazza Statute And then the
royal guards were there, and then they opened fire, perhaps just a couple of shots, but
they fired. And everyone had to run for it. I had her by the hand while running ...
The episode is introduced with the classic formula 'once . . . ' (na vblta) which
by its vagueness shifts us into indeterminate time, thanks also to the suspense
introduced by the subsequent 'near thing'. But there is a historical event
behind the story: the events of 1 May 1920. This day fell between the major
working-class struggles in Piedmont and Turin (the March strike against the
restoration of summer-time - a moment of head-on confrontation between
workers and employers - followed by the industrialists' lock-out, the general
strike of 13 to 24 April, and its defeat), and the factory occupations of the
autumn. In retrospect, the Turin events of 1920 represented the most
advanced development of the two red years biennio rosso during which workers
and peasants struggled to achieve revolutionary goals, without the support of
the leadership of the organisations of the workers' movement. At the same
time, there was the growth of the Nationalist movement which merged with
Fascism. 1 May 1920 was wedged between the biennio rosso of political
awakening and union power and a subsequent 20-year period of Fascist
dictatorship. 2 In addition, it was the last united May Day before the
Communist Party split from the Socialist Party (whose internal conflicts had
appeared during the April strike) - a historical turning-point which also lent
itself to symbolism because the day ended tragically with the sudden shooting
by the royal guards in Piazza Statuto, leaving two dead and 50 wounded.
Maddalena had gone to the demonstration with a group of women and her
seven-year-old daughter, Bruna, while her husband and sons joined the other
men on the demonstration. In fact, the whole family was Socialist; Maddale-
na's father, uncle and husband were railwaymen or railway workers, an
industry which used to constitute a power-base for the Socialist Party (for
which her maternal uncle was a member of parliament). The network of
women friends came from the same social and political background which was
symbolised by the reputation of Borgo San Paolo, where Maddalena and her
family lived, for moral and political integrity.3 That day, little Bruna was
holding hands with Eusebio Giambone's sister. Giambone was a linotypist,
who was later exiled in France, then became a Communist Party representa-
tive on the First Piedmontese Regional Military Committee, and was shot by
the Nazi-Fascists at Martinetto on 5 April 1944.
I had her by the hand while running. She held onto Giambone's sister, the Giambone
who they then killed at Martinetto. Well, his sister had her by the hand on one side and
I had her on the other, and we were running to get away.
When we stopped running, across that thing there was just by the arcades, just there
her hatflewoff her head, and to fetch the hat I let go of her [the daughter], she fell. I fell
too, and the next moment we're heaped on top of one another.
This is the beginning of a sequence in which events are jumbled up
together, recalled with accelerating pace in a loud, high-pitched voice,
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 21

punctuated by laughter. Maddalena gets up, her hair loose and face dirty, her
child with an injured arm. They pick up the hair-pins and take refuge in a
janitor's lodge which is already full of people. The story emphasises the things
which transgress everyday norms - the women drink the water keeping the
radishes cool and find it refreshing, they return home late, to find - in a
reversal of roles Maddalena's husband, who has been waiting for some time,
struggling with the soup she had put on the stove before leaving. But he has
forgotten to add salt. T h a t tasteless soup!' - a detail which becomes hilarious
in the recalling.
Dramatic and painful moments alternate with the comic: little Bruna has to
be taken to hospital for a fractured collar-bone; the walls in the piazza still
have bullet-holes in them. But comedy gains the upper hand. The vivid
memory: 'There was the piazza full of carnations and men's hats. Piazza
Statuto!' is immediately followed by the ironic remark at her own expense:
'And I took my carnation home!' Pity for the little one who has to be
accompanied to school wearing her arm in a sling is offset by the comic scene
of Maddalena being told off by the teacher and headmaster: 'They gave me a
difficult time, they scolded me for taking the child to a riot like that - A mother
with no sense of responsibility.'
Maddalena's leading role in the episode is because, as a woman, she 'breaks
the rules' (albeit involuntarily), a fact which repeatedly provokes laughter.
The principal difference between the oral version and the one written down in
Maddalena's diary - accounts that largely concur over facts - is in the stress
on the comic side of things.4 Oral testimony draws a veil over more tragic
elements - the dead and wounded, the pain and fear - and brings out the
symbolic overturning of order characteristic of carnival.
The oral form establishes a narrative voice in which the subject, instead of
seeing herself as the product of difficult and changing times, projects her
image onto an unchanging present. Describing her story on a static plane does
not allow one to see the 'mnemonic tension' or 'inner vibrations' 5 but rather
hides them, thanks to the externalising tone. This tone suits the highly
dramatic anecdotes in which, nonetheless, representation and self-represen-
tation continually slip into ridicule. The tone is heightened but not solemn - it
is comedy which sees the funny side of the tragic. One is dealing with a specific
convention of forms which occur in stories passed on by word of mouth, and
which bring to mind Michail Bachtin's analysis of carnivalesque culture. 6
Maddalena fell back on comic conventions on other occasions when
repeating the story in the family, as shown by the way the two sons present
during the story-telling urged her on and chipped in. We can also presume,
with good reason, that the social context of such a story was not just the family
but the circle of friends and relations, linked by ties of blood and political
affiliation, for whom the story offered an occasion for reinforcing a collective
The episode came to be remembered and recounted over the years because
22 Oral sources and cultural identities

public and private events in Maddalena's life were superimposed one on the
other, providing a firm point of reference for her memory.8 Her comic version
is emblematic of the complexity and double-sidedness of a whole area of
working-class culture. The double-sidedness arises from the fusion of an older
popular comic culture with elements of an identity typical of highly skilled
and politicised sections of the working class.
At one extreme, we have the self-representation as the person who breaks
the rules. Note the strong sexual connotations of the hair undone, the husband
left behind with the soup, all of which suggests a picture of female disorder in
keeping with the exceptional nature of women demonstrating in the streets.
The overturning of order involves female figures who take second place in the
Socialist world, whereas here they become leading characters, overthrowing
the double subordination of the proletariat in the public sphere. The new
Socialist world is not spared from the overturning of order that draws on the
popular comic culture of an older period. The irreverence is total, even in
relation to group values, and the comic way of looking at things puts
everything in a different perspective - whether it is the husband at home
struggling over the unsalted soup, or the Socialists who have left hats and
carnations in the piazza after triumphantly showing them off.
But then the story shifts, and Maddalena describes the social context in
which tradition counted: 'In the courtyard where I lived, the priest's lot were
called "Pee-Pee" [Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI) - the Catholic Popular
Party founded in 1919], and they called us "the Reds'"; concluding: 'We've
always been Socialists, my dad was one of the first, and when they first began
forming the Socialist Party, he was the first to change [from the Workers'
Party (Partito Operaio)]. We were born Socialists. We were born Socialists!
My dad was already one . . . ' This declaration of being Socialist by nature
from the very start - a born Socialist shows the links between family, love
and political relationships. The father-daughter relationship is crucial and
subsequent relationships, from those with husband and children, to those
with the neighbours who called the family 'Reds', flow from it. We are now at
the other extreme of the presentation of self, that of the turn-of-the-century
working-class culture linked to a quartiere, to certain grades of workers and to a
political party. It is a culture with its norms, ideals and rituals, and its own
place and institutions - clubs, theatres, libraries, co-operatives, newspapers,
flags, portraits, slogans, songs and bands. Here Maddalena typifies the ways
family and friends act according to binding rules. She accepts, realistically,
women's subordination in that working-class culture, just as she inherits her
father's political vision of the world.
Apart from the synthesis which they achieve in the power and energy of the
individual, the two self-representations spring from two different cultural
attitudes. One is characterised by irreverence, thanks to this ability to be
detached from the existing order of things, and even from oneself, and to
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 23
reflect critically on, and laugh at, the current state of the world. It is an
approach that turns the world on its head, makes historical, and acts out the
dialectic which allows the new to emerge in history. But it is acting
nonetheless. In other words, we have promises, symbols, and stimulus to
action, not real and lasting transformation of power relations.
Alternatively, the second approach, typical of working class and Socialist
culture, draws its potential universality from the desire to change the world
and put an end to social and economic oppression. But, in its historical form, it
contradicts the aspiration to universality in as far as it produces a 'society
within a society5. The proletarian public sphere comes into being in opposition
to the bourgeois public sphere, but in some way it reworks the latter in its own
image. However, this approach gives primacy to a 'political viewpoint con-
fined to the State5,9 while not considering culture the site of intervention for
social change in an immediate sense, but as subordinate to political objectives.
Thus it is entrusted with the task of reproducing forms similar, but 'alternative5
to those of the dominant culture. In consequence, the daily engagement in
alternative culture is neither capable nor conscious of how to maintain a global
outlook on overthrowing the social order. In practice, it often prolongs existing
divisions and inequalities, and confirms values which are sectional, whether in
relation to a locality, a sex, a social or occupational group.
Only in moments of emergency, which are reminiscent of the exceptional
nature of carnival, do the two cultures combine that is what Maddalena
seems to tell us in metaphorical terms when describing the people dressed up
for the political demonstration pouring into the streets and piazzas of Turin.

3 'We were born Socialists'

We saw in Maddalena the concurrence of political idealism and the father-
daughter relationship. The combination is found in other women of a younger
Anna Bonivardi, born in Saluzzo in 1904, who was a worker in the Polli
shoe factory, remembers that when she was 16 she took part in strikes and
So, because my dad taught me that way ... we were already born like that...
Your dad was a Socialist?
Yes, he was a Socialist then because there weren't yet any Communists.
Maria Truffo, born in Turin in 1905, and a worker in the Usigli woollen
mills, explains why she always felt herself to be anti-fascist: 'Well, you see, my
dad was already that way, I was born on May the first and so I was a Socialist
from birth. And him, I knew he always used to go and celebrate May Day at
one time and I5ve gone on like that as well .. .5
The circumstances surrounding the birth offer an omen of the future.
24 Oral sources and cultural identities

Through it, destiny is projected from the beginning rather than being
presented as the outcome of a process. The sign representing fate can be
mysterious, an apparently casual coincidence which history will later reveal
in fulfilling it.
Albina Caviglione Lusso was born in 1903, likewise a worker at the Usigli
woollen mills, and a Resistance fighter:
You were born in Turin, Albina?
Yes, yes, I was born in via Artisti when there was the cavalry who rushed about, and
the strike at Usigli's!
It was catching! [bursts out a woman who is also present]
The theme of almost biological predestination in being Socialist (whether
by birth or at heart) recurs often in the subjects' statements when they speak
out against Fascism, and about themselves or the groups they identify with. In
these instances, the metaphor, par excellence, is that of the heart because it
expresses the inner self and an unchanging nature which endures with the full
force of physical life even when silence is imposed.
Maria Conti Cafasso talked about herself and the working class at Mirafiori
in 1939: 'You had inside you a heavy heart for the people you'd seen
disappear, and then without really very much organisation, yet you had it
inside . . . it came spontaneously' [i.e. to be anti-fascist].
We will come across this metaphor again when discussing the subjects'
relationship to Fascism. Now, for a moment, let us take instead another tack
thrown up by literature. Vasco Pratolini's Lo Scialo (Waste) comes to mind.
Marione, the railway worker who represents the people - ever-strong,
unflinching even in defeat, spontaneously on the side of justice - becomes
politically conscious, and talks about himself and the people of San Frediano
with an ex-workmate, now a Fascist and office-clerk: 'What do you expect?
People like me, like us, certainly don't have their heads full of hundreds of
things; it's certainly not a life of non-stop activity. They are "people you can
count on nine times out often", and with whom you need to talk "from the
heart".' 'And when I say "heart," I mean, as always, conscience.' A little later
the metaphor turns up again to describe how Marione (and people like him)
react to the blows of Fascism: 'Do you know, when the heart has turned to
stone, you feel its weight?'10
These pages fit neatly into the great populist tradition of Italian
twentieth-century literature which offers a series of 'natural anti-fascist
heroes' and Socialists-proletarians given a heroic voice that represents an
eternal present belonging to those who have always been or were 'born'
rebels. These characters represent a natural order of things marked by
timelessness, which seems to underwrite conservative and pre-industrial
values.11 However, the populist-type self-representations of the working
class cannot be explained simply in terms of the spread of petit bourgeois
values to the working class.12
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 25

The collection and analysis of industrial workers' oral testimonies suggest

that such a hypothesis would be superfluous if account was taken of the
influences of popular and folklore traditions on the mental universe of much of
the industrial working class. For example, it would be possible to trace the
origins of stereotypes like the 'born Socialist' back to narrative forms and
visions of the world characteristic of many popular cultures and their local
variations. The formula of'having been born something' often appears in the
guise of boasting that where one comes from is better than anywhere else in
the world; or, the reverse, it appears as an insult that confers on inhabitants of
a region a reputation for being particularly stupid, mean or dishonest.
The unease which the 'pre-industrial' proletarian heroes in literature
provoke could derive from the severe distortion of more complex images.
After listening to many working class people talking about themselves, we can
recognise their sentimentality as it appears in literature but not the laughter
which follows it, the false bravado but not the self-irony, the high-minded tone
but not its deflation. The weakness of Italian populist literature might come
from its failure to capture in-depth historical developments and the trans-
formations of popular and class representations of self rather than from
having foisted onto the working classes something which was completely alien
to their culture.

4 Irreverence
It is interesting to look at the 'born rebel' form when it is not explicitly
political. Carolina Griffanti, born in 1893, was a worker for long periods at
Fiat's, and tells the story of her life in the presence of other women at the Fiat
old people's home:
CAROLINA Since I was five when my mum died, I remained without a mother, there
were two brothers, one aged three and the other forty days old ... There was my'aunt,
grandad and in fact those of the family. My life is a bit too hard and that's why I'm in a
state [she looks anguished].
A FRIEND Don't get upset now. Tell us about some of your larks.
CAROLINA Once I was on the window-sill of the house - because I wasn't living in
Turin, I was in the country at Castanoprimo, in the province of Milan I was eating
bread and salame with a knife and there was the hens, you know, underneath it was
like a poultry-yard ... and then I was there eating and this hen jumped up to peck me,
and I had the knife in my hand, and it went right through its back. Then all the hens
ran off, eh! Then another time, I was starting to go to school, but I was grandad's pet,
and anyone who told me off had better look out; whatever I did wasfineby him, even if
it went wrong. And that time, they were in the country and I took my two brothers plus
three or four from school, and told them: 'Be quiet, won't you or you'll cop it'. I went
up, my aunt had already taken down the salame to cook, I went chop, chop, the next
moment there wasn't any more salame ...
Then I came to the end of the third year of primary school because if I said: 'I'm not
going', my grandad said: 'She says she's not going, don't let her go any more. You stay
at home now.' And I didn't go, and got up to all sorts of things.
26 Oral sources and cultural identities

Then one time, there's the Villarese canal, it goes right by the village, it's 7 metres
deep, well, there's my two brothers with the wheel-barrow you put the stones in, no? I
took it and threw it in there. 'Now we're putting you in.' Clever Dicks! And so I got out
of there and ran, and with them after me. Then there was that thing, the netting that
stopped the dead bodies, that stopped the lot, but after the cemetery and there I got a
bit scared. And there were three or four men from the village, not even my village, from
the village after mine who came down to work. They were sitting there on the bank of
the canal and then said: 'Sit here with us, let them go away because girls shouldn't go
around with boys.' And well, I looked at them all and said: 'Yes, yes, you go away.'
And then I ran home. I went on until I was there by the cemetery, then I began to
heave a sigh of relief.
Then I got married, took a husband; we were 25 years together. We got along, then
onefineday he left me, abandoned me, and went off, not of his own accord, because
they carried him away, he was dead, he died in the night.
All the incidents in this first sequence are designed to show that as a child
Carolina got up to all sorts of things. The story of the marriage, which follows
on from this picture of the wilful child, does not represent the definitive
conclusion of rebelliousness but only its adaptation to new circumstances.
Memories go back in time from meeting her husband, move on to the son's
death at the age of seven, and once again shift back to an argument with the
father who did not want to give any money for the marriage because he was
convinced that the husband was 'already a man of means'. Here, too,
Carolina reacts by sticking to her convictions: 'My dad didn't order me about,
he could keep his money.' The moral: 'I was a bad one, wasn't I! But I don't
know what [laughs]. I'd the devil in me.' Then the story jumps to another
dramatic event - the death of her second husband's son, a partisan killed
before his eighteenth birthday: 'on 16 May, the war was over, they killed him
by mistake.' Lastly, Carolina insists on the injustice of not having received a
pension on account of the young son, despite efforts by two nephews who were
priests. The partisans were to blame; they had already treated her badly
immediately following her young stepson's death. Carolina recounts how they
had put the assassin, a fourteen-year-old boy, up against the wall, and she had
There's already one dead, why do you want to kill yet another ... who's just a child?
You shouldn't take them, you're the ones to blame. And then they wanted me... 'Hold
your tongue a bit or else we'll put you inside.' And I said: 'At least that way they'll give
me something to eat.' That's my life ...
In the subsequent interviews Carolina reaffirms her independence and her
tendency to overturn the sexual division of labour in the home. So, following
her husband's wishes, she has to stop work at the factory to have a baby,
although three years later he will be out of work. And then she was able to
accept the offer of work from Fiat; thanks to an uncle: 'Seeing as they've
offered it to me themselves, it's better that I go.' And the husband, who 'used
to work near home, was like a mum' to the child.
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 27
The order in which memories are recalled undermines the notion that the
chronological order is inherently 'natural5 and automatic. It underlines the
fact that all stories are based on conventions. In written autobiography, in
fact, reflection, a form of active engagement with one's own past, predomi-
The first beginning to Carolina's life-history, the 'natural' one, does not
stand up to the emotions it arouses. It is a beginning tied to autobiographical
and psychological experience, while the other starting-point suggested by the
women present allows her to overcome her tension and establish an accept-
able stereotype. (The contrast puts us on our guard against the mistake of
confusing the latter with a deep identity in the psychological sense.) It is
interesting to note the great lucidity shown by the other women in the old
people's home in referring to the stories they had already heard. Story-telling
was obviously a part of their lives we can imagine that when Carolina was
already grown-up, her aunt might have recounted stories of her daring
exploits as a child during evenings spent with friends and relatives.
Despite the emphasis on rebellion, other attitudes and forms of behaviour
are glimpsed in the life-history. Carolina also speaks about herself as an
exemplary wife and mother, a conscientious and obedient worker, a devout
Catholic, and, in politics, as someone in favour of the status quo. The contrast
reinforces the impression that irreverence is a narrative stereotype which does
not so much point to real behaviour as project affirmations of identity onto the
symbolic plane. Carolina certainly does not expect us to take at face value all
the non-conformist things which are presented to us as the most important at
the level of the narrative, while between the lines, or from answers to
questions, one comes to understand her conventional behaviour. In fact, the
latter concerns fundamental aspects of her biography.
The irreverence is symbolic and this perhaps becomes clearer if a centuries-
old tradition of iconographic and verbal representation of women-rebels is
called to mind. Variations of the image of the 'disorderly' woman, or the
woman 'on top' or in some way able to overturn gender roles has been
illustrated and discussed with reference to much earlier historical periods.
The importance of these analyses lies in their recognition of the symbolic,
rather than simply reflective, character of representations and, at the same
time, in the recognition of their potential influence on forms of behaviour.
Natalie Zemon Davis has hypothesised that 'the play with the various images
of woman-on-top kept open an alternative way of conceiving family struc-
If today we can find affinities between individual subjects, and that age-old
image we, too, can think that this individual mythology may draw its power
and raison d'etre from the very fact of not being 'true'; from acting, that is, as a
source of inspiration, encouragement and stimulation in the face of social
reality. In such instances, the rebel stereotype, recurrent in many women's
28 Oral sources and cultural identities

autobiographies, does not primarily aim to describe facts and actual

behaviour, but serves a markedly allegorical purpose, which changes con-
tinually through contact with different life experiences. It is a means of
expressing problems of identity in the context of a social order oppressive of
women, but also of transmitting awareness of oppression and a sense of
otherness, and hence of directing oneself to current and future change.
In Carolina's mental outlook, the stereotypical notion of 'having the devil
in her' justifies and explains certain innovative choices made in moment of
crisis - the decision to marry without her father's permission, the wish to work
in the factory even after the birth of her son, the call for a different division of
labour in the house. Taken as a whole, her behaviour is probably the outcome
of combining novel ways of doing things with the aforementioned preference
for order. The primacy given to the first, in narrative and symbolic terms, tells
us something about the importance of the processes of cultural trans-
formation, linked to the new experiences of many women in the first decades
of the century. Some self-images proved particularly useful in such processes
because they mediated between tradition and the new experience.
If Carolina's story takes up the time-honoured tradition of women-rebels, it
is actually because it sets its symbolic value against all attempts to reduce
everything to the factual, while maintaining the contrast with actual forms of
behaviour. It is just that this contrast is not explicit as the heightened tone of
voice is largely that of the comic-epic tale. To get at the discrepancies, it is
necessary to study the tale as it is told, by highlighting two levels - the factual
aspect, and the symbolic aspect of the anecdotes - and by comparing it with
other biographies. In this way, substance is given to hypotheses about
women's memories.

5 Women's traditions
I would like to start off with a case in which tradition appears to refer not to
the ego of the speaker, but to an actual alter ego as in this example from the life
of Eugenia Candellero, who recounts a story told to her several times by her
mother. Matilde, who was married in about 1880, had collected her things in
a bundle and returned home, to her mother's dismay, after only 15 days:
But what are you doing?
I've brought my things home. I don't want to stay with that fellow any longer - do I
always have to stay with him?
But you must stay with him willy nilly if you've married him!
And the landladies were scandalised:
The two spinsters - my mother then told me - all sanctimonious: 'Oh, but no, no,
Matilde, for pity's sake, don't do such a thing.'
Matilde's husband, by now at home and not finding his meal ready, also went
to his mother-in-law's home; she hid the bundle and told him Matilde was not
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 29
well. But the man understood, and did not insist on taking his wife home. He
asked only that cooked food should await him, 'so as he could go home to eat,
to my house . . . to our house'. It was up to the mother and the two dutiful old
maids to literally put Matilde back on the road so that she 'change' and return
to her husband. 'And so, to begin with, she went and got herself a child'. This
was the first of Matilde's eight children, four of whom died when babies.
The woman's rebellion caused by disillusionment with the marriage and
coming before the definitive falling-into-line that goes with having the
children, is another form of the tradition of independence. For Carolina, this
independence first appeared in childhood larks, and then in the wish to
continue working, in her ready replies and her stubbornness in pursuing her
objectives. The tradition of women's rebellion and desire for independence
dates back a long way, even if it lacked systematic expression.
Albina Gaviglione Lusso and Lina Villata (born in 1896; a worker at the
Manifattura Tabacchi [State Tobacco Manufactory]) recall past stories of
women in the family running away:
ALBINA My aunt, my mum's sister, was born in 1873 -
LINA Bloody hell . . .
ALBINA So it's a hundred years or so ago, she married this fellow because my
grandmother made her marry him. She ran away from home the evening before the
marriage, and went to Bardassan to my aunt's, to an aunt who was already a
great-aunt: 'I'm not going, I'm not going home. I won't marry him, I won't marry him,
I won't marry him.' And so my grandad went again to the house in the evening and
said: 'You have to marry him.'
LINA You marry him then!
ALBINA 'You have to marry him.' And she married him, she married him . . .
LINA But she got to the point of marrying him?
ALBINA Yes, she got to the point of marrying him . . . and then direst misery, direst
misery. Look, I've seen misery because I've always lived as a worker, I've lived in
factories where . . . but the misery there was in that house I've never seen the like of...
The women follow up this story with the older and more elaborated version of
the same lesson of independence - the song Bel uselin del bosc, which clearly
prelates its transcription (below).
ALBINA It's a song sung by my grandma . . . wait - ah, but then it was a love-song
[she is referring to the fact that during the Fascist period it came with political
connotations] - wait, I'll sing it for you, all right:
Dov'a saralo vola, dov'a saralo vola? Hohoho!
Sla fnestra dla mia bela.
Dov'a sara vola? Sla fnestra dla mia bela.
Cosa a l'avralo porta? Cosa a l'avralo porta? Hahaha!
Na letra sigilela.
Cosa a l'avralo porta? Na letra sigilela.
Cosa a-j saralo descrit, cosa a-j saralo descrit? Hehehe!
La bella si marita.
Cosa a-j saralo descrit? La bella si marita.
Son maridame ier, son maridame ier. Hehehe!
30 Oral sources and cultural identities

Ancheuj son gia pentija.

Son maridame ier, ancheuj son gia pentija.
Fuissa da maride, fuissa da maride. Hehehe!
Mai pi }m marideria.
Fuissa da maride mai pi 'm marideria.
Viva la liberta viva la liberta! Ha ha ha!
E chi la sa tenila.
Viva la liberta e chi la sa tenila!
[Where'll it have flown? Where'll it have flown? Hohoho! / To my beauty's
window. / Where'll it have flown? To my beauty's window. / What'll it
have carried? What'll it have carried? Hahaha! / A sealed letter. /
What'll it have carried? A sealed letter. / What'll have been written
therein? What'll have been written therein? Hehehe! / The beauty is
getting wed. / What'll have been written therein. The beauty is getting
wed. / I was wedded yesterday, I was wedded yesterday. Hehehe! /
Today I've already repented. / I was wedded yesterday, today I've
already repented. / Were I to wed, were I to wed. Hehehe! / Never
more would I wed be. / Were I to wed, never more would I wed be. /
Long live liberty, long live liberty! Ha, ha, ha! / And those who know
how to keep it. / Long live liberty and who knows how to keep it.]
Maybe the song is 200 years old but we learnt it when we were little.
If the tradition of women's rebellion and desire for independence in the
shape of a vision of the world lacking formal structures is very old, the song
shows us that one of the themes of that vision has a direct forerunner in a
written document. This records an oral tradition that certainly came before
the document.
According to Constantino Nigra, the song is 'found scattered throughout
Northern Italy'. 15 The theme 'like its progression via calls and responses, is
very clearly of popular character'; an early version was found in 1855 at
Oleggio in Lombardy. Nigra observes that 'the theme of the married woman's
complaints, all too common in life, is equally common in the poetry of the
people'. Certainly, the song and its popularity drew strength from features of
women's oppression and the pressures for change in the second half of the
century. But the women who 'learnt it as children' and who now pass it on,
update the tradition, making changes in the process of reviving it. Rather, it is
living only because it is continually injected with new meanings. 16
With the end of the Fascist period, the song lost its political undertones and
became once more the love-song that Albina remembered. So its functions
became that of contrasting past and present to show what changes have taken
place in the women's lives. Again, Albina says:
But if I think about my mum, my mum's life and my grandma's, and that my grandma
had thirteen children and . . . went out wet-nursing in people's homes. She gave milk to
twenty-nine babies! My life's already been better because we've both of us worked - I
used to work at the factory, my husband used to work at the factory and you brought
home the weekly wage . . . working in the factory didn't mean going and doing
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 31

domestic service in this or that house anymore . . . and at that time there was no
floor-polisher, there was only the broom (lagalera). You know what zgalera is? I've still
got one.
Albina and the other woman who tell similar stories - and many show no sign
of nostalgia in their testimonies - see themselves as active agents of sub-
sequent social transformations. (The disappearance of the galera - the large,
heavy broom with handles that was used for polishing floors - is a symbol of
these changes.) It was thanks to the decisions taken by them, such as the
decision to limit the number of children they had, to go to work in the factory,
and even to cut their hair, that changes took place. This, at least, is the
message of the women who, like Albina, wanted to change their lives, not only
in a political sense.
If, on the one hand, autobiographical material and family traditions are
selected out of the necessity to legitimise new forms of behaviour, on the other
hand, they echo older story-telling conventions. The narrative tradition is
grafted onto the present and illuminated by the forms of behaviour with which
it is not to be confused, even though it changes meaning and function in
accordance with them.
In this way, the field of women's discourse - a field endowed with cultural
and symbolic autonomy- is revealed in the history of cultural transformations
side-by-side with social ones. The arguments which reduce oral sources to the
spontaneous and contingent product of the encounter between interviewee
and interviewer cannot encompass this double reality. According to them,the
self-representations of irreverent behaviour and stories of revolts and
independence would be nothing but the outcome of an occasional interaction
between two people under the influence of feminist ideology.
On the contrary, the testimonies bring into the open already existing areas
of female social life, involving the passing on of experiences and stories from
mother to daughter, grandmother to grandchild, and between neighbours,
friends and relations. In this context, the discourses are different in nature and
value - they constitute family traditions, established conventions which allow
small communities to control their resources. The various fields of discourse
have different relationships with social reality and with forms of behaviour;
for example, gossip can generally influence behaviour more directly than a
personal mythology or a song, which are less 'functional' and possess greater
autonomy and symbolic meaning.
All this draws attention to the impossibility of making direct use of the
testimonies, in the ethnological sense, as revealing behaviour patterns.
Rather, they reveal a tension between forms of behaviour and mental
representations expressed in particular narrative guises. The most illuminat-
ing research is able to identify the patterns in the contradictions between the
stereotypes found in the oral sources, and the information which emerges
through in-depth interviews and participant observation.17
32 Oral sources and cultural identities

6 The mask of the fool

So far, we have seen that the narrative devices, 'always having been
something from the start', 'always like that5, 'by nature', have been contra-
dicted by what the subjects have then said. A political or sexual identity based
on opposition to the existing order co-existed with this conception of an
unchanging, timeless state of being. This set up a symbiosis between past and
present, conservation and innovation, which presents a situation quite unlike
(and more convincing than) that found in models of linear progression. The
key factor is not so much the political or sexual content of what is said as the
use made of the narrative device. In the following testimony, for example, it is
used to depict a sort of reductio ad absurdum of human life.
The declaration of innate ignorance is often found in form of a wisecrack,
but not so often in the form of a representation of self. One of our subjects,
however, makes use of self-representation almost entirely for this purpose.
When asked whether he has ever been interested in politics, Bernadino Favole
replied: 'I'm not an expert in any field, in life and in politics I'm a non-starter'.
The device immediately shows its double-edged character. Ostensibly,
Favole accepts the world as it is, but he is also 'irreducible'. Because he does
not fit into the world, he is potentially a force for change:
I used to live in the province of Cuneo, in the district of Cherasco, in the country,
however, in the country. There, whoever didn't have land of his own to live off, was
forced to work under others. Being under other men means leading a poor life ... and
then they were class-prejudiced - the bosses were bosses, and we were like, I don't
know, like slaves. When one of the relations arrived - I was not yet 9 years old, and I
didn't yet have the sense to understand that it was better not to meddle with things in
their home - went to see what they were doing, if they were eating something nice, I
don't know, some sweet or other, because I was greedy ... sometimes if they also had
something... to give me. But what do you expect, they said: 'Away with you. Push off.'
This is how Favole's life-history begins, and the childhood ignorance of
'class-prejudice' is used to show up another example of ignorance which is
that of the bosses. Ignorance which turns to accusation slips back into
self-irony because accusation too is crushed by the assertion of power. Here is
Favole among the alpini [mountain troops renowned for their physical build
and resilience] who were selected according to their height:
I thought of myself as small but when I went on marches they put me at the back
because I wasfivefoot, seven inches. They put me at the back so I got all the dust they
made thud, thud, thud! All the dust the others made.
'Smallness' in these examples is the measure of the disorder and absurdity of
the world. It brings to mind the mask of the obtuse fool who puts everything in
question, ending up appearing wiser than the educated and powerful.
The dialectical connection between the image of the ignorant fool and that
of the astute joker or the wise man has a central place in popular cultural
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 33

expression. 'The fool, the blockhead and the idiot are the alter egos of the
soothsayer', Bertoldino is the alter ego of Bertoldo. He surpasses him from the
opposite side, since starting from his own simplicity, he outdoes the other in
astuteness. The same applies to the two servants of the Commedia dell'Arte, the
First and Second Zanni, the sharp-witted and the stupid, the wise and the
Favole assumes the narrative role of the 'simple man' who suffers a fate
stronger than he is - first as a herdsman, then as a waiter in Liguria, then as
emigrant in Latin America, then as night-watchman in Turin ('I got a job
picking up drunks'), then he was called up again, and finally and 'forever' as a
Fiat worker (first at Lingotto and later at Mirafiori). He says: 'I was like a
puppy, I used to follow them and that's how my life finished up ...' What
appears as senseless in this knowing picture of himself as the smallest cog in
the machine is the absurdity of the world which crushes the protagonist.
However, it does not succeed in preventing him from exercising his cunning,
by playing the innocent, pretending to know nothing so as to make those who
claim to know everything look ridiculous. We will find this mask again used
with success in the face of Fascism.

The narrative mode of 'having always been like that' which we have seen at
work in all its ambivalence can appear in single focus, projecting images of the
self and the world as static or in decline. Antonio (photo-engraver, labourer,
tram-worker), although born in 1920 at Bianze, begins in the following way:
'Well now . . . I've always lived in that neighbourhood (he is referring to the
quartiere of Turin called Barriera di Milano), and concludes: 'Then when I
retired I went back and found all my friends from before.' His is a circular
interpretation of a life which, in reality, had its changes and ups-and-downs -
war, unemployment and changes of job.
In other cases, the formula 'born-rebel' is linked to the idea of misfortune.
The dramatic situation of old people today no doubt heavily influences such
pessimistic outlooks. Luigi Giano, an engineering worker, born in Turin in
1900, draws up a negative balance-sheet of his life:
We've had Fascism. After that we've had these, these 30 years of Christian Democracy
and so we've had little from life, eh. We've suffered more... more than got enjoyment
from life, no doubt about it. And let's hope, however, that it turns out better for you lot.
Oh Christ! Because the government doesn't pay any attention to us, because if there's
no militant worker to lean on the industrialist, the government, which is our boss,
doesn't give a damn about the pensioners, saying: 'Well, the sooner you die, the sooner
we get rid of the cost.'
Apart from the influence of objective conditions, the narrative form is
tipped in favour of a negative outlook and, in the final analysis, leaves aside
every positive aspect: 'I remember I was looked down on when I was born at
seven in the evening on November the 7th 1914 because I was female. My
34 Oral sources and cultural identities

father was waiting for it to be a boy, instead I was a girl, so he threw the bunc
of carnations under the bed.' From this point on, there unfolds a story c
'great hunger, endless beans and a lot of misery' in which the protagonisi
Wanda, rebels desperately and uselessly against an adverse fate. A worker a
the Viscosa factory, but subsequently forced into doing every kind of job
married to a drunken Socialist, it is only with his death that she succeeds i:
having fewer troubles, though no moments of serenity or satisfaction from life
A form of 'self-hatred' appears in this life-history that serves an anti-autobic
graphical function.19 It can be attributed as well to that pessimism an<
bitterness, to those 'tones of lament and rebellion' which Danilo Montald
related to the 'ideological legacy of sections of the peasantry and older urba]
plebeians.' Montaldi's observations on the relationship between Christiai
heresies and the 'plebeian and anti-historical pessimism' of the stories c
certain figures from the lower Po valley provide the basis for his analysis of th
narrative form 'I've always been unlucky' heard in the stories of factor
workers from the industrial metropolis.20 This is another sign of the possibilit
of taking up and re-adapting archaic narrative phrases to express an<
interpret different material conditions of oppression.

7 A choice of poverty
Now that a first series of self-representations sharing common properties am
hingeing on similar themes have been dealt with, we are going to examim
another kind of narrative identity. It is a case of self-representations tha
emphasise decision-making, choice and individual responsibility, and that ii
some way involve creating an identity for oneself even when that implies no
changing but coming to terms with the existing situation.
Eugenia Candellero, born at Carignano in 1886, a worker in the upholsten
section at Fiat's for 27 years, gives illustrations of her life as an exemplan
enactment of principles of acquiescence - don't get mixed up in anything, d(
your job, keep on the straight and narrow. However, she places these homiliei
in a framework that has very different implications. Her story begins with i
view of things based on moral choice, which is also, indirectly, an attack or
social injustice: 'Look, from the age of six I understood we were poor. Fron
the age of six. My poor mum was a sort of a dressmaker, like she'd learnt to be
but she was still a good worker, and she was bright - she didn't know how tc
read or write.'
The beginning provides us with different elements: again a double identit)
- her own and the one that emerges obliquely through the portrait of hei
mother (the Matilde who left home a few weeks after her marriage); but it alsc
gives an appropriate hagiographical framework in which the whole o:
Eugenia's life will be placed. In fact, the tone and themes are recognisable
ingredients of the hagiography, even if they are not taken directly from the
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 35

source. Note the edifying intent behind it, the exemplary nature of the tiniest
events that establish a connection with a transcendent reality, the trials that
the protagonist undergoes in an extreme spirit of self-sacrifice. It has been
noted that it is not by chance that hagiography borrowed from its origins in
the oral tradition elements such as the predilection for the dialogue form, the
anecdote and the determining role ascribed to place rather than time. 21
The family of origin is pictured in the opening sentences by Eugenia as
honest and hard-working, poor and courageous. This goes for the eight
brothers and father, but above all for her mother, described as 'a very thrifty
housewife'. Soon the life-history takes on a cyclical rhythm. Eugenia tells us
about her devotion to her mother and capacity for self-sacrifice (her marriage,
too, is presented as a pretext for doing a lad a good turn), about her readiness
to work (as shop-assistant, hairdresser, manicurist, before her job in the
upholstery section of Fiat's), and to give her services free, or virtually free (to
help the sick, for instance). This information is interspersed with recurrent
mention of the poverty and the harshness of life which throws light on Euge-
nia's ascetic calling.
A hackneyed phrase and an anecdote serve to underline the cyclical nature
of the life-history. A phrase, which is fairly widespread in Piedmont, appears
in this life-history in different versions: 'I can't tell you what a life I've had',
'life goes from bad to worse', 'always had a rotten life', 'I've always suffered'.
The anecdote too appears several times, but only when repeated a third
time is it fully developed, subjecting the autobiographical material (the
relationship with her mother and with poverty) to an edifying dialogue which
would not be out of place in an account of the childhood of a saint:
And at that time, I was six, so I was also a child. I was six, I understood and told my
mum, because I used to go - they called a lot of times, they were fond of me [the
neighbours] ... and I noticed they'd got a stove, and I went home and said: 'But mum,
how is it that while we've only got a fire, and, you put the tripod on to make us some-
thing to eat... they've all got stoves ... they've all got them ... and you still have to
bend down when making something to eat... why?' She said to me: 'You'll understand
when you're bigger- it's because we're poor.' She'd never told me that! I got it fixed in
my mind that we were poor, and I said: 'I want to be poor', right from childhood.
A hagiographical representation of self of this kind calls for different narra-
tive formulae from those of the natural. It is not possible to be born a saint,
like being born a Socialist. But the choice of a way of life, because of the asceti-
cism which animates it, turns into its opposite, becoming a surrender to a
superior will. Eugenia ends up by picturing herself almost as an automaton
with a touch of grotesque self-parody when she imagines herself'all crooked'
from carrying her brother, or when, from working frenetically at Fiat's, she
gets so thin as to appear a 'smock on legs'. 'I got a damaged kidney from all
that hard work I did. Then, a little later, I got a strangulated hernia'.
The self-portrait, based on endless self-sacrifice, brings to mind the picture
36 Oral sources and cultural identities

another worker gave of herself - that of Angioletta, whose testimony was

collected in the fifties by Edio Vallini22 - with the difference that Eugenia's
devotion is not unthinking; rather, it is the product of an obstinately held
position which only completely reveals the root of her ideals and politics at the
close of a long interview, resumed on more than one occasion. The war is over
when the Communist Party activists pass by Fiat Mirafiori, where Eugenia
has been for some years after her transfer from Lingotto. They ask: 'Will you
join . . . ? ' 'No, no, now's not the time', she retorts, and takes the cue here for a
declaration of principles:
because I've not taken any membership-card out, none, neither a Communist one nor
a Socialist one, nor anything else. I was a free citizen and a Christian Democrat, and
that's that. I've always been one, because I'm, I'm a believer, I've always worked for
the Church, I've always gone to Communion, I've always gone here, there and
everywhere; I used to carry the banner, I went to collect the dead, I had the banner,
that's all, I've always done the right thing ... I want to be a free citizen and do my
This catalogue of Catholic rank-and-file activities concludes and crowns
the self-representation as a saint in the sense of exemplary woman in the
world. The contradiction between acceptance of the existing state of things
and the subjective assumption of responsibility also becomes clear. In fact,
Eugenia always presents herself as a person who is, by choice, both a part of
and outside the world. During the Fascist period: 'And they never did
anything to me, did they, nothing, nothing, because I went my own way, I
went to work'; or during the war: 'Well, I worked, but I didn't sleep at night
because I always sat outside and said the rosary and always waited for them to
sound the alarm to wake those that were sleeping ...'; as in the following
period: 'And even when they then gave us freedom I always kept myself to
It is possible to understand why the initial identity split between the
protagonist and the mother, Matilde, which runs throughout the life-history
as a subterranean polemic, is crucial. Here we deliberately leave to one side
the psychological conflict between mother and daughter, itself an underlying
premise behind the separation taking place at the narrative level. On this
level, the figure of Matilde takes on the oppositional role that Eugenia is
unable to fill due to the style of image that she gives herself. It would have
been entirely inconsistent for the protagonist to assume the role of rebel. Thus,
the figure of the alter ego is essential not only to put Eugenia's patience to the
test in the light of the mother's pressing demands. Above all, it serves to
provide evidence that the path chosen by Eugenia is the right one and leads to
better results, unlike that attempted by her mother who had no time for the
conventions of the world.
In this life-history too, progression does not occur along a straight line of
development or through a series of transformations and adventures involving
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 37

the subject, but through the two sides to the self-representation - mother and
daughter, subjective will and transcendent reality. These two sides do not get
reconciled in Eugenia, rather, other signs of dissociation flourish. For
example, she uses the first person plural to distance herself when talking about
the period of German occupation. Yet, even if she differentiates her position
from that of the anti-fascists and says that the Germans treated her well,
Eugenia always refers to the partisans and anti-fascists as 'ours'. Here the first
person plural 'we' is in no way an extension of the singular T understood as
the will specific to Eugenia, but is rather only a sign of belonging to the same
nation and the same factory.23 It is another sign of distance from the natural
the T is also markedly different from the 'we' because Eugenia's religious and
existential choice sets her apart from those who are like her in terms of
language and work.

8 Other life-choices
A possible hypothesis about the mode of narration described above is that it
corresponds to a conception of human subjectivity as a relationship with (and
realisation of) a transcendent reality.24 This does not necessarily have to be
thought of as religious sensibility, even if the characters borrow mental and
narrative forms from the religious field.
Emphases similar to Eugenia's are found in the beginning of the life-history
of Maria Conti Cafasso who adopts them to illustrate another choice:
I was born at Bianze. I don't know ... is it relevant? I lived on a farm until I was 16, on
one farm then I changed ... then I changed and went to live for four years on another
farm. Then, when I was 20,1 came to Turin. However, my memories of this farm have
been overwhelming. Even though I was a child, I was always ever so anxious. Lots of
times my mum saw me crying ... 'Why are you crying?' I'll talk in dialect, all right? -
'Because we're so very poor ..., because we don't even have a house where we can do
certain things ...'. Because they weren't really even habitable, they were impossible.
Anyway, the years went by, until 1914, I was 10, and then there was something of a
tragedy ... at home, because my dad was dismissed because the owner left, and he
found himself there, at the age of 60, having to go and look for another employer ...
And from then on my mind was made up, as I said I was 10, and I turned to my dad
and said: 'Dad, when I'm 20' -just like that, look, I'm getting goose-pimples because
it's like I'm telling him now 'Dad, when I'm 20, I'm going away from this farm, from
these places and they'll never see me again ...'.
Ten years after this prophecy, in 1924, Maria married and went to Turin
where she and her husband found work at Fiat's at Lingotto. After the war,
Maria joined the Communist Party.
The moment of revelation in her story, that of the decision which is to
influence her whole life, comes when, faced with social injustice, she decides to
migrate. It is here, before making a party political choice, that the break with
the natural order of things is manifested. It is in making that decision that the
38 Oral sources and cultural identities

story points to 'an imaginative leap, a decisive act of refusal and discovery of
oneself which overturns the peasants' centuries' old history of passivity and
subjugation'.25 The way of telling the story of the individual's heady moment
- as if it were a moment of inspiration, almost revealing a premonition -
remains in the realm of myth. It gives the individual's choice to take part in
history back into the hands of a force greater than the subjective.
A version of this mode of presenting the self that is no longer mythical
occurs where an element of psychology is invoked to explain an apparently
absurd situation. Martino (born in Turin in 1913) was born a Socialist in the
literal sense, but not in the metaphorical sense used by the women heard
earlier. His parents ran a cafe frequented by workers of the Turin quartiere of
San Donato. His father was a Socialist, and the cafe, a regular place for meet-
ings and discussing things including politics; in fact, it was a 'bit of a left-wing
setting'. In spite of such a background, Martino became a convinced Fascist
(so much so that he is one of the very few subjects of this research not to deny
making that choice). Thus his self-presentation begins with his political
rebirth, which took place when he was at primary school. It was in 1919, and
the class was temporarily being held in a state housing block (casa popolare):
So I was already ... I don't know, for two or three weeks I'd been going to that school
there, and I'd already got to like it and I'd already got to like ... and I got on with the
teacher, who was still a girl, if I remember rightly and was so patient, well I became
attached to her, I became attached to this teacher; two or three weeks and I was
already attached to her. I knew absolutely nothing about politics, well, at six imagine
it, eh, ... we were doing the lesson, the teacher was giving us a lesson, which she was
basically already beginning to do ... Let's say it was on the alphabet - all those little
things, eh, she started introducing us to, and we were on the first floor, I remember
very clearly because we were small children and they had put us on the firstfloor.All of
a sudden, we heard noises, a racket, eh, but the teacher closed the windows ... and the
racket got closer and closer all the time, then it came up from the courtyard, then the
teacher stood stock still, and said: 'It's nothing to be afraid of, children. It's nothing.'
Then, all of a sudden, we heard a banging on the door, they were coming up the stairs:
'Out of there, all of you!' ... some shouts ... and the teacher said through the door:
'But what do you want?' 'We want everyone outside, you to go, get out of here, out!'
'But why should I go away, eh? Leave us in peace, I'm doing a lesson.' No chance,
they broke the door down, while we cried, they took the teacher and they slapped her
across the face, eh, and I saw the redflags.Then they took the benches, eh, they took
the benches and threw them into the courtyard and setfireto them, they burnt the lot.
Then they went away. The teacher tried to comfort us as much as she could. Then I
don't remember any more. Anyway, afterwards I didn't want to go to school anymore.
I missed a year ... I missed a year.
This episode, described by Martino as 'really crucial', and which was to set
in train a 'memory that's been alive in me, that's entered my blood-stream',
became the basis for a new identity, though this was not possible so long as his
father was alive:
Later my dad died from a tumour in the throat, and from then on I didn't want any-
thing more to do with that sort of person. I didn't want anything more at all to do with
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 39

them, so much so that when Fascism came I welcomed it precisely because it fought
against that lot, that sort of person.
By this he meant the Socialists and Communists. Martino's life afterwards
confirmed for him the reliability of that memory and the Tightness of the
I was no fanatic, yet my sympathies weren't for the Resistance, they weren't for the
Resistance. Then my impression had been confirmed even now, after the Second
World War, when I've seen all these ... strikes, which were practically orchestrated
together with capital, with big business.
Martino's own interpretation of his life-story attempts to loosen the links
with the biological side of the metaphor (the memory left in the blood-stream)
by a psychological shift, even though his whole life-story is told, not in terms of
a progression or development, but as a repeated confirmation of a first flash of
The self-representation of a Communist militant can be juxtaposed, almost
as a mirror-opposite, to the last two we have discussed. It is the life-story of
Benigno Bricca, as told by him shortly before his death in 1977. It is very
different from the accounts so far. Even the ritual resistance to talking about
oneself is put in a particular way. The others use formulae or irony which
lessen the unfamiliarity of the situation: 'Good God, from when I was born?!'
(Maria Coletto); or with the excuse of the excessive length: 'My life would fill
a novel' (Gabriella Basso); or by turning the question back on the questioner:
'My life? I don't know . . . where do you want to begin?' (Mario Gallo); or, in
the words of Arturo Gunetti: 'Yes, but through your questions one can come
to make links. So fire away.'
Instead, Bricca puts up resistance that reveals his idea of autobiography as
part of history, and hence as something written down: 'The biography, the
biography could be written, comrade, it could be written . . . straight off like
this is a bit difficult . . . Give us time to write it . . . we could write it Luigi,
couldn't we, improvising like this is a bit difficult.' But straight afterwards he
set off with an opening phrase in keeping with the introductory remarks:
So comrade Bricca Benigno was born in Turin on 3 March 1904 in the twentieth
century. Apart from childhood spent in the life of a proletarian... childhood and youth
spent in a really not very decent way, hardly decent, almost in conditions of penury,
conditions of penury, that was the proletarians' lot at that time, where everyone who
worked didn't make enough to maintain a family. Then in 1919, having joined the
Socialist Youth Federation at the Karl Marx Club in via Narzole, in 1921 with the
foundation of the Communist Party after the Livorno split, I switched to the Youth
Federation of the Communist Party of Italy, which was then called Communist Party
of Italy.
The entire beginning oscillates between using the third person and the
impersonal forms of the verb (such as the past-participal constructions
'childhood spent' and 'havingjoined'). The third person, too, is a non-personal
40 Oral sources and cultural identities

form which does not establish an inter-relationship between subjects, as

happens with the couplet 'You/I' where the two persons are single and
reciprocal.26 The use of the third person stylistically sets up the objectiveness
necessary for talking about oneself in relationship to the overall historical
process; in this case, the subject resorts to his identity as member of a poli-
tical organisation to establish himself fully as an agent and witness of History
with a capital ' H \
Bricca places himself in history with that slight officiousness implied by
the personal data, saved by pride in the words and tone of voice: 'comrade . . .
proletarian'. The mixture of modesty and pride revealed by the third person
fits with the play between individual and collective identities found in this
political activist. The narrator distances himself from the character who is
none other than himself and ultimately identifies with the historical destiny
he has introduced into the story.27 But it is only thanks to the very strong
personal commitment that identification can take place. The impersonal tone
ends up by being an indirect method of affirming the self, even if it exposes
those 'fetishisations and excesses' De Martino speaks about in relation to the
ethos of transcendance.
It is much too easy to note that the T , as opposed to the preceding
impersonal forms, appears for the first time at the beginning of the life-
history when the narrator speaks of the Communist split from the Socialist
Party. Bricca too, like others, was 'born a Socialist'. In 1908 his father was
among the founders of the Karl Marx Club which had its meeting-place in
the very courtyard of the house where he lived and had his carpenter's work-
shop. 28 Benigno's brother, Claudio, was secretary of the Socialist Youth Fed-
eration. Both Claudio and Benigno became Communists, making a choice
which remained indelibly fixed in the memory: 'I still remember clearly how
they put out the ballot-boxes at the Karl Marx Club. The one on the left was
for voting for the Socialist Party, and the one on the right for voting Com-
munist Party, and we got a majority.' The Socialist Party, too, was part of
that 'natural order of things' they had turned their backs on, not without
leaving a legacy of bitterness. These activists refer to the conflict between
Ordine Nuovo faction and the Socialist leadership, which led to the foun-
dation of the Communist leadership, as if the events had happened yes-
In 1920 ... when, after 20 days of factory occupation, the comrades of Ordine Nuovo
naturally, they were still members of the Socialist Party - they went to the Party
leadership in Milan: the comrades [i.e. the Party leadership], the Socialist comrades
laughed in our faces.
The effort of breaking with everything taken as natural meant making
great personal sacrifices (involving the family) in the Fascist period: 'My
brother lost his sight in Parma gaol, my mother died from grief really, from
fear, and my father sacrificed himself all his life.' Benigno himself, already
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 41

weak-sighted and dismissed from the company as a result, went totally blind
in prison.
But it is certainly not only as a consequence of his injuries that his
identification with the Party is so total (and this is shown by the rest of his
life-history, short as it is on personal details). Let us listen for a second to the
comrades of Bricca's club (born between 1897 and 1900) who, when asked
about their memories of the pre-Fascist period, after a brief silence replied:
GIANO 1921 was the starting-point for us.
BAGNASCHIN You're asking us to talk about the pre-Party time, the time when there
was only the Socialist Party.
BO And we weren't around.
We', in this instance, means the Communist Party. When one manages to get
around this stereotype, thanks to a lot of interviews and the help of mediators,
one discovers that the activists too have childhoods, wives and children, in
other words, an everyday life. But they consider worthy of being passed on
only those self-representations concerned with the collective identity.
All those who have collected oral testimonies have noted that one of the
constant features of the left-wing activists' life-histories is the 'cancelling out
of individual private life'.29 Montaldi was the first to bring to light a series of
contradictions among political activists - the alternation in language between
'Italian' and dialect, and the fact that the 'militant lives a situation of
imbalance. Man and mass, individual and party, comrades and family'. But
in Montaldi there prevailed an admiration for the militant's capacity to 'draw
out of himself a manifold collective sense'. 30 Today, however, because of the
impact of feminism, it has become more apparent what human costs the
'collective sense' entails for oneself and others - the mothers, wives and
children of activists.
The human cost involved in self-sacrifice can be seen in the way the
narrative blots out all mention of the individual's private life. Unlike in the
religious tradition, this highly charged spiritual commitment is not acknowl-
edged and reflected upon. Rank-and-file Catholic activists, on the other hand,
can talk about their union involvement in the following terms: 'Mine is a
public profession of faith, and so I act on it to the full' (Raffaele Coppola,
engineering worker, born in Naples in 1923); 'I draw my courage and ideals
from religious convictions' (Graziosa Biasiolo, labourer and later printer,
born in Padua in 1911. Both of these people are CISL union activists.) Even if,
in the event, Graziosa sacrificed her private life, she says openly: 'I didn't get
married because I made a purposeful and responsible choice when I was
young. And so I devoted myself to work, in my own interests, but also in the
interests of others'. 31
It is, therefore, a question of not confusing narrative choices and ways of
life. But above all, as far as we are concerned, it means bringing into relief the
mirror-relationship between the objective mode of narration of the secular
42 Oral sources and cultural identities

activist and outbursts of personal feelings which take on explicitly religious

tones. In the first case, the uniqueness of the individual seems to be annulled
in accounts which select only what qualifies as political and institutional
history. But such a conception presupposes a commitment as obligatory as
that expressed by Eugenia and Maria's creation of an identity for themselves.
It is riot a coincidence that these stories converge in their edificatory or
apologetic intentions, and in the didacticism with which they address us.
Of the notable differences between the life-histories only one is directly of
interest here - that related to the different story-telling traditions underlying
them. To bring to light the multiplicity of levels, the interplay with written
forms, not forgetting oral precursors, it would be necessary to excavate each
one of the oral traditions. On the one hand, we can imagine church-sermons
and religious education classes in the oratory, and on the other, political
speeches, branch discussions, political party training-schools and even
lessons in prison - all phenomena little studied from an anthropological point
of view. Many narrative forms adept at expressing and reformulating
collective and individual representations must have flowed into them. The
social effect of such unstructured oral traditions has for the most part yet to be

9 The worker as 'demiurge' 32

We come now to a third set of self-representations which are grouped around
the theme 'work5. It is a theme which repeatedly recurs in the oral sources,
and not only those in this particular study. However, work does not always
have the prominent place in people's self-representations that it actually has
in people's lives. In the cases in which work serves to establish the identity
of the narrator, fantasy and reality are mixed up. With this theme, the risk of
confusing forms of behaviour and ideas, or of exchanging the one for the other,
is in fact greater than for the first two groups of self-representations so far
Let us start with our survey of this part of our gallery of self-portraits with
that of Luigi Vercellotti, who was born in 1889 at Alice Castello. After telling
of his call-up during the First World War when he had just married, his
wounding, the death of his two sisters (one of whom a twin), his wife's mental
illness which ended in suicide, he declared:
Life... Pve always been lucky, throughout my life I've been lucky, and then, but I've
always kept busy, I've always headed in one direction, always taken the right path, a
bit to one side and bit to the other, I've been with everyone, and I was well-thought of
at work and everywhere ... Not as a fanatic. Someone who looked on the bright side, I
liked to do a good turn. I'm content.
'It's been an eventful life', admits Vercellotti himself, but one mastered thanks
to 'prowess', the right approach and 'know how' (saperfare). Even at primary
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 43

school (which he attended for five years) he had a 'magic touch with
numbers', and was to go on to have 'a magic touch' at work. Work was passed
on through the family ('I come from a family of building workers'), but he also
liked it: 'as a building worker I spent the winter in the yard and in the summer
I liked to be outside.' However, he was to end up staying at Fiat Spa for 38
years, 'perfecting' his skill with the milling-machine and reaching the top
And then I worked on the mill - with that machine there you can make all sorts of
things, endless things, endless. 'Look, we make everything the Lord created', we used
to say. We brought the parts there - making a comma out of a piece of metal the size of
a full-stop, a hair's breadth, as they say, just like that. Grinding a part down to make a
turbine for planes, starting from 17 kilos and finishing with 400 grams. All the ridges
down to 3 millimetres, always grinding itfinerandfiner,we made some lovely things.
Vercellotti maintains that he was too passionate about his work to agree to
become a foreman: 'It's not my kind of job, I'm incapable of giving orders.'
The job of foreman offered promotion and a measure of independence to
skilled workers in the twenties when production was being rationalised.
Vercellotti, however, justified his refusal of the job in terms of his self-image as
highly skilled worker. His self-representation is based on the capability and
ingenuity associated with skill. Yet this is only one component. Vercellotti
insists that he comes from a working class area ('I'm from the Barriera di
Milano . . . Barriera di Milano is a working class area') where 'the people'
have 'savvy' and know how to cope rather than get involved in politics; 'I
wasn't anyone out of the ordinary . . . I was always in the company of skilled
men, no, I never had a part in any conspiracy, no, never had'.
Vercellotti's claim about 'knowing his place', which is an important
element in his self-representation, emphasises self-reliance, lack of envy and
self-contentment. However, his own actions do not correspond entirely with
this picture. Vercellotti himself was brought to the Fascists' attention because
he had signed the Communist Party electoral petition in 1924. He sub-
sequently joined the PNF (National Fascist Party), though with reluctance,
but refused to become a capo-casa*, saying: 'Membership, yes, but a Fascist,
Pinot Ivaldi (born in 1894 at Vercelli), a red guard, founder-member of the
Communist Party of Italy, also talks about himself in a similar vein: 'I've been
the type that always manages to fix things. I've never felt bitter towards
anyone. I've always been a moderate man.' Vercellotti's attitude of'looking
on the bright side' is expressed not only in factory-work, his relations with
comrades, foremen, wife and neighbours, but also in another 'passion' - that
for his BSA 500 motorcycle, bought for 7,250 lire in 1930 when there were '200
motorbikes in the whole of Turin':
* A warden who was a Party representative responsible for the surveillance of other tenants (all
footnotes are by the translators).
44 Oral sources and cultural identities

And at that time I had a passion for a motorbike, a BSA, it was a toy, a plaything. It
weighed little - 150 kilos, and when you saw it in the distance it looked like a plaything.
My passion was the mountains, seas, lakes . . . I did 36,000 kilometres . . . the last trip
was always at All Saints' because I used to go and visit my mother at the cemetery in
the village, and then after that until May . . . and then to avoid paying too much tax, I
waited until March to pay the three months at a reduced rate.

So Vercellotti's boast is that he knows how to enjoy himself and appreciate

novelty. It is a conception of self in which the story-teller unites the idea of
'prowess' with the ideas of luck, desire for contentment and confidence in his
ability to get along. Vercellotti was, no doubt, a fine worker like many of the
other men who share this image of themselves. The idea fits into the mythical
figure who is master of an infinite number of trades and is contented with his
lot.33 However, this self-representation is not solely or primarily the product
of the work-situation. It is rooted in the older notion of being an independent
man of the world.
The representation draws on both traditional elements and the modern
'work ethic' (to use Weber's term). The traditional component comprises the
ideals of small producers, and has its roots in peasant and artisan cultures. It
puts particular stress on biblical contentment and the values of self-sufficiency
and all-round knowledge. The 'work ethic', on the other hand, entails
exclusive, specialist dedication to work, which becomes as much an end in
itself as a means of making a living. It is closely bound up with capitalist
development. If we take Vercellotti's case, we can see how he adapts older
self-representations to the new industrial context. His 'magical touch' extends
to machines, motorcycles and a world waiting to be controlled and materially
The rationality of the self-representation, including its 'magic' elements,
can only be understood against the background of all the various demands
made on the worker. For example, the mythical motifs found in hyperboles
such as the reference to 'infinite number of trades', the exclusive emphasis on
the positive aspects of work, and the alternation between statements about
working hard and calls for the eight-hour day or Mondays off for drinking- all
these relate to the cultural and psychological context of the workplace. The
idea of 'mastery' gives strength to workplace struggles and helps in the
maintenance of control over difficult situations, such as the apprenticeship
trials involving the production of the craftsman's 'masterpiece'. The self-
esteem and the collective esteem which that idea nourished helped shape an
individual and collective identity by linking work to other aspects of material
and cultural life.
However, it was an ideal deeply marked by the iniquitous division of labour
and divisions within the working class based on differences of place of origin,
gender and economic and cultural stratification. In fact, the work ideal based
on skill contains both egalitarian and conservative elements. These include
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 45

paternalistically oppressive attitudes to youth, labourers and clerical workers.

Observations have been made about this ambivalence in the workplace and
society in different historical situations. 34
This explains how the ideal can appear in combination with a sense of local
identity which takes on regressive or progressive meaning according to the
historical period and situation. In this instance, Vercellotti lays claim to the
Tiedmontese character'. It is a common stereotype that those who call
themselves Tiedmontese' (piemontese) (a label which is partly 'cultural' and so
able to be adopted even by those not born in Piedmont), do so to differentiate
themselves from southerners (meridionali), which is another, not strictly
geographical category. In the stereotype, they are a slow people (bogia-nen),
but this is due to their love of the village or town they come from and
particular steadfastness of character; they are taciturn and little given to
gesticulation, getting agitated and 'making scenes'; they are capable and
willing at work.
The stereotype of the Tiedmontese' does not have direct class conno-
tations. As a collective self-representation it is counterposed to other stereo-
types, such as that of the passionate Italian, the rogue and astute swindler.
Above all, it sets a local against a presumed national identity. Even today in
Turin people remember the expression 'I'm going to Italy' ('nde }n Italia) to
describe a journey outside Piedmont, but such a representation of self can also
be considered an adaptation of the image counterposing the peasant or
mountain-dweller, 'big shoes and slight brain' (scarpe grosse e cervellofino),to
more sophisticated and seemingly more astute men. The traditional embodi-
ment of this image in Piedmont is the mask of the region, the mask of
According to the description given by the Caval 3d brons, the paper of the
Famija Turineisa in 1926:
The character of Gianduja is substance itself without appearance. The appearance is
modest - simplicity, roughness, bonhomie, colourful but peasant-style costume. The
substance is all strength, intelligence, astuteness, nobility of heart, speaking about the
most sublime things in simple tones, practical, pedestrian, yet beneath the pedestrian,
a lofty spirit, upright in judgement and prompt and measured in his actions.
And, above all, 'Gianduja is not impulsive, does not give himself over to
enthusiasms, does not get carried away, never gets excited; he sees thing as
they are'. 35
The Piedmontese mask represents not so much popular attitudes as a
centuries-old cultural symbiosis between different social strata, and may well
have had some influence on the self-representations, at least of those of the
older generation. One of the recurrent themes in the repertoire of this
distinctly political mask is the opposition Turin/Rome which has deep
popular resonance, being linked, as it is, with the transfer of the capital (one
need only think of the 1864 demonstration against the transfer of the capital
46 Oral sources and cultural identities

from Turin to Florence).36 This opposition was also to be a key theme in the
cultural relationship between the Turin working class and Fascism.

10 Upward mobility
What we have said so far can help explain that the idea of work has not 'kept
pace' with the development of factory work and company organisation.
Debates in Italy on attitudes to work and work ideologies have tended to
polarise around two main positions. On the one hand there has been the
celebration of the work ethic and the ideal of a society based on independent
producers (e.g. co-operatives); on the other, there has been the polemic
against those positions characteristic of the labour movement which has come
from the intellectual currents originating in the 1960s. They have maintained
that changes in the organisation of work and the composition of the working
class itself have emptied work of its former significance and autonomy.
Although this critique grasped the nature of key features of the industrial
transformation, it had major deficiencies. Above all, it failed to examine the
grass-roots culture of the working class.
The organised labour movement had similar shortcomings in that it also
stripped from the concept of the skilled worker the flesh-and-blood world the
actual worker inhabited. Often the ideal version of this figure took anachro-
nistic and Utopian forms.37 In addition, the movement underestimated its
ambiguity and hence the need to criticise the anti-historical and non-egalita-
rian bent of this ideal before adopting it. Precisely because it supplied a set of
meanings shared by socially and politically diverse strata - as far apart as
owners and waged workers, Fascists and anti-fascists that ideal had both
widespread circulation and ambiguous connotations. Let us look at the
ambivalence prevalent in these self-representations.
We find the idea of the 'worker-demiurge' which we came across in the
testimony of Vercellotti in the service of a different career and ideology.
Angelo Sargian (born in Turin in 1897) recounts that after military service
and the war he 'didn't leave a stone unturned' before he got into the Lancia
works. The account presents us with a family of origin where everyone carries
out their allotted tasks to the last detail - the father as head of patents at
Fiat's, one brother a tester and the other a printer, while the women of the
house 'busy themselves patching and mending, and pulling things along'.
Then Sargian describes a typical day in his life in the years between 1920 and
1924: work from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, then evening classes until 10
and finally at the drawing-board until midnight (living and going to classes in
the quartiere of Vanchiglia, and working in Borgo San Paolo, meant each
journey, by bicycle, took 20-30 minutes).
The story of his life is dominated by a work-based hierarchy. The vision of
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 47

society and the family seems to be regulated by norms similar to those applied
by the factory foreman:
If you were a worker in the top grade, then they gave you a cylindrical shaft with inner
and outer sections, one male and one female to be fitted together perfectly. If, however,
it was only a third-grade worker, he got a shaft with a knurled handle, which he only
had to make the male section for. But the top-grade fitter [the most skilled of all] had to
make a square-shaped part, male and female, inside the cylindrical part, he had to
make a hole in it and then file it down so that it made a small tongue which would go in
perfectly, all the way, slowly, slowly.
In this hierarchial world, Sargian distinguishes himself for his 'know how5
(saper fare) not only in his job, but in all the jobs, as his section foreman
acknowledges: 'But you're a walking encyclopedia!' His love of technical
progress goes beyond the confines of the factory and his studies; he was the
first to construct a crystal-set, and the first in his building (a large casapopolare)
to install a bath and water-heater.
An important element in Sargian's self-portrait is his identification with the
sort of model entrepreneur represented by Vincenzo Lancia; Lancia, known
by all, as Maria Coletto who lived in that quartiere recounts, 'went around the
workshop in a boilersuit'. Sargian comments, 'He was the type who knows his
business and rose up from the shopfloor, from working on the lathe, like us,
not like it is today'. So, once again, with Sargian we have someone with
encylopedic knowledge and pride in working with his hands. However, this
protagonist goes on to become manager of a fairly important engineering
There are, in our collection, other life-histories of the same type, in which
career success is proudly attributed to exceptional hard work - to working
'until midnight', 'all Saturday night'. The Piedmontese identity crops up in
these life-histories, and is all the more significant when the speaker is born
elsewhere. Cesare, borne in Veneto in 1899, insists on the entrepreneurial
abilities of 'us Piedmontese', and finds that the strong-point of the Agnelli
family* is their 'piemontesita9; 'the Agnelli's were Piedmontese, and are still in
Piedmont . . . and they want to remain in Piedmont because they say their
family was born here and they want to stay until their family-line dies out'.
This idea, too, was to flow into the widespread representations of Mussolini's
vain efforts to take Fiat away from Turin, itself part of a longer history of
animosity between Turin and Rome.
Apart from the political and social contrast, it is noteworthy that these
life-histories differ in another respect from those recounted in section 9. There,
it was a matter of a fixed identity, depending on a combination of prowess and
contentment. Changes and improvements had their part, but did not go
beyond the limit of a working-class way of life, inherited at birth, which also
* The owners of Fiat.
48 Oral sources and cultural identities

encompassed work and politics. On the contrary, in these life-histories, there

is a progression which is the product of the protagonist's non-stop activity.
But in these life-histories as well, development is measured in terms of the
subject's economic and social situation, and certainly not of the individual
himself; the subject remains unchanged from beginning to end - always able,
desirous of improvement, willing and fair-minded. He judges others accord-
ing to a set of priorities in which he takes account of willingness and capacity
for work, honesty and success.
Work has an absolute primacy in the last of the histories mentioned, even in
terms of personal identity, which it did not have for other subjects. These
characters' attitudes to work would qualify for the label 'secular asceticism',
which has been used to refer to the workings of the capitalist spirit in many
entrepreneurs. There is no mention in these testimonies of a transcendent
reality; Max Weber's observation: 'like a ghost of religious concepts of former
times, the idea of the work ethic haunts our lives', applies to them, but the
underlying religious concepts have completely disappeared. 38

11 The many meanings of work

Few of the workers who we have been following have had an upwardly mobile
career, and equally few remained labourers all their lives. Members of the
latter group tell stories similar to one another about emigration and hard,
insecure forms of work which cover the whole span of their lives. As Emilio,
born in Veneto in 1900, says:
You worked then to stay alive, me and my family. Working to stay alive, I had to do
factory-work and the boss if he wanted me to bring the bed in to the factory, there was
always work. You lived on the strength of your work, hard work, labouring, that is, or
otherwise not having afixedjob. I've worked at the kiln, with the spade, on the land,
and coming down with the mule pulling the cart what they call the birroccio there, I
came down with bricks which I took in to Turin and I've always done heavy,
exhausting work. And then I got work at Riv, and you worked 16 hours a day there as
well, whoever wanted to do 16 hours did them because in the foundry where I worked,
I can tell you it was a hard life keeping the family.
Emiiio is a long-standing Communist. He got away from Ferrara not only to
escape poverty, but also to avoid 'losing his skin' at the hands of the Fascist
squads. His identity is represented in the form of his constant struggle to avoid
being crushed by the forces of poverty and power. He was to survive, not
winning and yet certain he had not resisted in vain:
And so here I am, and I'm on the bread-line. Look at what I'm left with after working
all my life, eh? And then in particular, if you should say 'in particular', history tells us
so. You others, you in education, you don't know much because I've seen that the
teachers and rectors etc. etc. and the officials ... they're all out for themselves ... The
children struggle less than we struggled. And yet I always say that it was the demands
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 49

that we made, because if everyone had put on the blackshirt, well, everyone put it on,
everything, everything would have beenfinishedfor them.
This tragic but indomitable vision of life in which work, like Sisyphus's toil,
with considerable difficulty keeps adversity at bay, provides the basis
for a representation of self full of anger but not devoid of dignity. The self is
placed in a continually shifting equilibrium drawn between pessimism and
action, a bitterness that looks reality in the face, and courage which does not
underrate material and moral struggle. The choice not to give way to
resignation at being 'born poor' therefore turns into taking on the burden on
political responsibility and entitlement to lay claim to political gains passed
on from one generation to another.
Such a form of the primacy of the political suggests how pliable class
consciousness is. Comparison of different moments in the labour movement's
history shows that consciousness to be formed in relation to very different
attitudes towards work. These vary from that of the 'workerdemiurge' to that
of the semi-skilled whose 'dexterity' no longer comes from pride in craftsman-
ship, but from agility and adaptability. Comparison also suggests that the
richness of the workers' movement's political heritage comes from its ability to
establish a two-sided relationship of both detachment from and adherence to
current conceptions. It certainly does not arise from conferring a special
status and aura on one of them alone. Our principal interest is, therefore, in
documenting as comprehensively as possible the attitudes towards work,39
and studying their implications for the formation of identity.
Perhaps the biggest problems crop up in the women's biographies where
the assumption that work is the basis of social and cultural identity most
keenly exacts its price and reveals its contradictions. In their life-histories the
preambles which emphasise the importance of work are not always indicative
of the dominant identity. Maria Coletto begins with: 'Oh my life! Work, work
and more work!', and Vicca says: 'I began working when I was ten-and-a-half
in a woollen mill,' but these are only the starting-points for representations of
self as joker, rebel or unpredictable character. Maria Coletto recalls her
experience as a worker in the De Coll chocolate factory:
Thefirstweek I was there ... I saw all that lovely chocolate ... They put a forewoman
over us to supervise us. And when we saw the forewoman we were on our best
behaviour, and when she went away we did everything under the sun. And then one
day, as a result of eating hazelnut chocolate, wasn't it, I got indigestion. You know I
spewed up - if you don't mind my saying whole nuts like this? If I wasn't at death's
door that time, well, I'll never laugh again! My sister went as white as a sheet, what a
bundle of nerves! Because the owner said: 'But how come,' she said, 'she's been sick?',
the late signora Rina: 'You can see she's eaten too much chocolate!'
In other instances work is not thought worth mentioning unless as a means
of emancipation. Thus Carolina Griffanti, when asked how hard work at
50 Oral sources and cultural identities

Fiat's was, replied impatiently that it was not for that reason that she did not
want to talk about it: 'Not hard! Why then do you say: "We were born to
work! We were born to work!5" Carolina does not dwell on the subject of
factory-work of her own accord, except to recall her wish to continue working
after having a child.
For women, work is a means to an end rather than an important part of their
identities.40 Luigia Varusco (Perosa Canavese, 1890) follows a precise
narrative line in recounting the story of her life; 'Let's follow a thread', she
declares, and the thread is her move from one job to another (contrast this to
Carolina's method of narrating by associations, leaps and repetitions). In this
story, too, there is the sense of development and progression: 'I went to work
at Ceat's and it seemed like being in heaven already.' But it is factory-work in
general, not the particular job, that for Luigia means an improvement with
respect to housework and domestic service (although she is perfectly well
aware of the exploitation involved in waged work).
That is not to say that women did not devote themselves utterly to their jobs
when they had the opportunity. Albina Caviglione tells how she stayed
behind many evenings in the factory to work alone at learning the more skilled
jobs in upholstery. Lina Villata expresses pride in the quality and quantity of
her work at the Manifattura Tabacchi: 'I learnt to do five jobs at the tobacco
factory and I never refused any job they gave me to do, never. I left a highly
skilled worker. Anyway, I did 36 years and 6 months service, not just one a
day, you know'. But this capacity for work does not seem to constitute, in
social terms, a primary narrative identity. In the words of Luigia Varusco,
referring as well to her unfulfilled wish to take part in the Resistance: 'I
should've been born a man.'
The most obvious thing to note is that women's work is characteristically
less skilled and given less recognition, or lacks security, making it less suitable
as a basis for an identity. But this observation is in a certain sense saying too
much and too little because identity, and, still more, the self-representation
could be connected to work even in this circumstance, although in different
ways. Furthermore, even highly skilled women who sometimes express pride
in their skill, do not present themselves as distinctive because of this.
However, the influence of work on women's self-representations should also
take account of the ethos associated with certain jobs and the effects of
women's movement. This becomes evident through comparisons with
ongoing research, using oral sources, into middle-class women (born between
1890 and 1915) who, in the first 30-40 years of the twentieth century, chose to
work as clerks or teachers. For them, work seemed to offer not only material
independence but also the primary basis for a psychological and social
identity, despite relative indifference, especially among clerical workers,
towards the content of the job. 41 Hence, the above considerations only or
mainly refer to working-class women born before 1920. For them, factory-
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 51

work is worthwhile, above all, in so far as it upholds their image of themselves

as forces for change in the world. Work is not, as in the case of many
middle-class women of the same age, the basis for identity because of its
content or the social role that it confers. For the middle-class women, work
appears almost as a justification for not marrying. All this is affected by
contemporary choices - women who have established their identity through
work, even at great cost to their own options in life, are encouraged to present
this choice in the light of many young women's current tendency to see work,
of whatever kind, as an indispensable stage in their emancipation.
If the history of the idea of work is extended to include women, we are
presented with a process which is the opposite of that leading from pride in
skill to the refusal to work. In contrast, waged work over the past 50 years has
become an ever greater component of women's cultural and social identity.
This has been due to the idea of achieving emancipation through work, not to
the nature of the work itself. In fact, as the case of clerical workers and
teachers shows, work has been a source of self-sacrifice and split identity.
These lacerations in female identity are indicative of the contradictions
unleashed by the processes of liberation and self-affirmation, whether mater-
ial or cultural.
To all this we must add an observation in line with our discussion of
tradition. We need to recognise that the image of the 'worker-demiurge', and
that of the worker whose identity is subsumed in the product, are traditionally
part of masculine stereotypes.42 Although they constitute two poles of a
common culture, the representations of self as the rebel 'by nature' and the
hard worker are not directly interchangeable since they constitute the
symbolic recompense for the different roles imposed. The fact that women
redefined themselves culturally by choosing a stereotype of rebel and men by
elevating the image of the hard worker fits in with the marginal position forced
on women by the social division of labour. This makes it harder for them to
identify with an institution, trade or 'positive' side of the existing order.

12 Forms of identification with the work process and production

So far we have insisted that the idea of work and, even more, the identity
linked to it, cannot be made solely dependent on the type of skill or level of
work organisation. Both are acted upon by narrative traditions, shared social
values, geographical origins, life-chances, and, of course- since we are talking
about oral sources - the contemporary situation. Oral sources, relating to
these, confirm those sociological studies which have warned against seeing
attitudes to work as solely determined by developments in the labour
process.43 Even the general model, which holds the relationship between skill
and the factory responsible for a constant process of de-skilling, has been put
in question. Innovations in technology and company organisation are not
52 Oral sources and cultural identities

always implemented on the basis of existing skills and can produce effects
other than de-skilling and disaffection from work.44 But oral sources say
something more about the specific ways ideologies of work compensate for or
celebrate economic, social and technological development.
Let us look at the forms of self-representation of numerous people who were
still highly skilled, but faced mechanisation and scientific work organisation
or, at least, found themselves surrounded by these changes, even if they
continued individually to work in 'privileged' sectors compared to the new
de-skilled sectors. For many of them, a work-based cultural identity lives on,
but not without bearing the marks of the changes that have taken place.
Above all, we find among engineering and metal-workers those who have
revived the old traditions based on craft but play down their universalist
scope. What remains are some elements of self-representation, such as the
conviction of being the mainspring of production, while the vision of
all-embracing 'know-how5 is transformed into a stress on the material nature
of work, on its technical aspects or on the finished product. An identity-split45
appears between everyday know-how and the imprint of work on the life of the
story-teller. The complexity of the identity formed in this way is also signalled
by formal elements of the narration (for example, in the use of verbs), besides
the content and the progression of the story.
Paolo Pagliazzo (born in Vercelli in 1886) starts by using habitual tenses to
describe a repetitive past: 'Work has always been monotonous, I don't know
what to tell you about it', 'I used to be at Grandi Motori. I used to work in the
factory, I was a foundryman.' Then he goes on to use the present to talk about
the physical aspects of work:
When going and getting the metal, the cast iron, we go with a small thing like this and
which goes down, the sparks do this ... you can't work on those jobs with gloves on,
you need to handle tools as small as spoons, then for all the work with the raw materials
the hands need to be bare, need to be clean, you can only put the goggles on when you
go to the welding shop, but for the eyes yes, not for the body. When the sparksflyonto
the legs, burn the trousers and a drop as big as this goes on you if there's four orfiveor
six of them together, it takes months to get better. It goes putrid, then there's the
medicines, there's the ointments, but it takes time. Small as they are it always takes
weeks to get better.

In this perspective, everyday 'know-how' is in no way presented as entirely

positive, unlike in bourgeois versions or the ideology of manual labour and
production in the organised labour movement. The stress on the physical
aspects of work, emphasised in the gestures, too, includes in this instance - as
is often the case with the oral sources - references to the difficulties and
damage to health of working conditions, besides dealing with satisfaction and
pride in work. ('All the ships that are going round, we've still got parts that
have been through our hands, all the ships going round today, all over the
world, still, to Russia and everywhere. To America as well, eh.')
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 53

Similar stories reveal the costs in injury as well as the fulfilment of an

identity based on work. The double-sidedness is obvious in many of the
opening lines of the life-histories in which the representation of self as a fine
worker is combined with awareness of the limits imposed on human potential
by work in a capitalist society:
I was born in the iron-foundry of Buttigliera Alta, the Fiat iron-foundry, no? I was
born there in the Fiat houses and I'll die here [in the Fiat houses] (Attilio Gritella).
I've always worked for Fiat's my whole life, and I used to spend more time at work
than at home and afterwards I started playing bowls and that was my passion of a
Sunday, and that sums it up (Giovanni Barbero).
Replying to a question about how long he had worked at Fiat's Lingotto
plant, Felice Gentile declared: 'Look, I was born there and will die there, I've
always been at Lingotto, they never let me go, and there was nothing to be
done'. Birth and death refer likewise to the identity formed through work.
The history of the last person mentioned is a particularly interesting case of
split narrative identity. Gentile, who was born in Lioni in 1901, employs a
chronological sequence of events to string together the first part of his story -
childhood with his signalman father in Irpinia, where at night 'You heard
wolves' to the dismay of the six children; technical school at Avellino and
apprenticeship as a carpenter; employment at the age of 16 as a temporary
worker on the railways. He did his military service first in Turin, in the
Signals, then in Tripoli as apprenticed paymaster. Gentile, in fact, takes the
request for a detailed account of his life seriously, but with the year 1923 his
tone changes radically. After going on leave and other events on his travels,
our man returns to Turin and gets work for a year-and-a-half with a
carpenter. Thanks to the interest taken in him by a lady caretaker, who gave
him meals, and knew some work-team leaders (capisquadra) at Fiat's, in 1923
Gentile was taken on by the machine shop at Lingotto. At this point, after a
brief historical introduction ('Fiat was beginning mass-production'), the
subject of the narration is no longer himself but the car: 'I'm going to talk
following the car, all right!' That is to say, the line of the story follows the
various processes in car manufacturing:

Now I'll leave the carpentry shop because I've said all there is to say. Well, with the
chassis made, sized up, sent on, it went to the sheet-metal shop. The sheet-metal shop
already had the dummy, they had the sheet metal ready, and they began to cut it to
size, then they welded i t . . . and all the time on the line, wasn't it, the lines were pulled
along by chain, pulled along, and at that time the Lingotto one, you know it's long,
have you ever passed by there?
Of course. Not inside, but I've seen from the outside.
Well, the first half from here, that is, from here to there, half of Lingotto was body
shop, from that half on to there - via Passo Buole - was engine shop. And so all the
lines met halfway in Lingotto, so going width-ways there was a line here, then it went
round, came down, then went back, went up, so when it came out there, the body was
finished. Then, from there, it passed on to the paint shop, where at that time there used
54 Oral sources and cultural identities

to be - with us there was cavalier* Armandi, those of us who were responsible for the
car's progress. Then it passed on to the sheet metal shop, there was cavalier Guida.
There were five 'guvnors' (ras), I remember - Armandi, Guida, Barale, Ionescotta
(Jon Scotta) and the last one who . . . they're all dead, well, now I'll tell you I don't
remember the poor fellow's name - Fiaschi! There were five 'guvnors', that is, each one
had his responsibilties, then they competed to see who kept their shop in best order . . .
because then there was cavalier Rosso, he was the manager of the whole body shop . . . a
strong-arm man cavalier Rosso, wasn't he!

Work organisation is tightly interwoven with the managerial and disciplinary

hierarchy which marked out Fiat Lingotto, but the subject remains the car as
it follows its course through the factory. The production cycle dominates his
life-history until the final claim in which pride and frustration commingle:
And so, you see, this was more or less the cycle . . . but... we were at the root of it, eh,
and now I don't want to say . . . I'll tell you the truth of the matter - Fiat was born
because of us, the Fiat of mass-production was born because of us, and those five
'guvnors'! I say 'usj' - I became section foreman, but that was in '54, in '35 I became
work-team leader (jpaposquadra) and then I was two years on the line, I had to go on the
line just at the point where they assembled the chassis.

The narrator of this story used to be one of the tuners of shop 16, a job which
required a high degree of skill, despite the frequent lack of recognition of its
real skills and responsibilities. It is worth reflecting on the importance, for the
life-history, of the account of the car's progress (it takes up the main part and
lasts more than half the length of the overall account) in the light of that
factory's particular history.
A comparison of Gentile's account with the outline of the Lingotto lay-out,
reconstructed by Bigazzi, shows that Gentile succeeded in broadly outlining
the production cycle, although the role of shop 16 is disproportionately
inflated. The importance of a mental reconstruction of this kind can be better
understood if it is remembered that Lingotto in the twenties was organised
along 'extremely advanced technical lines'; according to a reporter of La
Stampa (the Turin daily paper) the production process inside was laid out in
such a way that 'none of the workers who work inside would be in a position to
give even a succinct outline of it', so much so that 'on Sundays many workers
spend hours and hours visiting shops where they have never set foot'. 46 The
mental effort demanded of the narrator by the reconstruction justifies the key
role it plays in the account. Furthermore, the effort pays off in the sense that
the reaction to the ruthless de-skilling shows an understanding of the most
important innovation Fiat Lingotto represents over its forerunners - pro-
duction was no longer taking place on the basis of groups working individual
machines but followed the course taken by the car itself. However, the effort
involved in understanding the work cycle in human terms is evident in the
unusual role it plays in the narration. There is an interruption to the flow of

* An honorary title of merit.

Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 55

the life-history (which was to pick up again in response to questions) to allow

for that description, which imposes yet another form of expression. Here too, as
in the previous life-history, the work-based identity is expressed without refer-
ence to a particular moment in time. This way of going about things does not
put the world in historical perspective, even if it does produce commodities and
value. That confirms a deep contradiction in the representation of self in terms
of unfulfilled potential, real power to transform which has gone astray.
The change in the story's protagonist (which becomes the car) can be seen
as a metaphor that brings back echoes of the 'worker-demiurge5, even though
with a pathological element of reducing the worker to the status of an object. If
the subject can no longer boast about knowing how to do everything, he
retreats into identifying with the process and the product of work. Here, in the
middle of progressive de-skilling, we find a closer identification between man
and his work than in those who were nearer to being craftsmen. Again, this
contradicts the argument that there is a one-to-one, linear correspondence
between developments in the labour-process and identity based on skill.
Moreover, it throws light on how an aspect of mythology or pathology,
hyperbole or symbolic exaggeration corresponds to each of the different
Once again we have listened to the voices of skilled workers, while the
relatively unskilled or semi-skilled, like machine operators who were becom-
ing the largest group in the twenties and thirties, do not appear in this
overview of work-based identities. That points to one of the limits placed on
the autonomy of mental representations - there are material conditions which
destroy certain ideas, at least in some situations. There are working con-
ditions which militate against the formation of a cultural identity, unless these
are subsumed within a different representation of one's own worth. The
line-worker's 'agility' or 'dexterity', and the excessive pace of the work which
provokes small, but daily, acts of sabotage (such behaviour was found in the
large Turin factories of the thirties) provide the means for representations of
self as the shrewd type able to take the bosses for a ride, or as the political
militant who also helps other people, rebuilding a solidarity undermined by
the system of work organisation. But that image of the worker does not stand
up in its own right, nor does it command sufficient social recognition to justify
a self-representation based on it.

13 Knowing how to amuse oneself

Stereotypes, oral traditions and collective representations lead a strange
existence. In certain periods they seem forgotten or incompatible with the
sensibility of the epoch, only to then reappear in different circumstances, and
with different (even opposite) meanings. Hence people talk about 'survivals' -
a term incapable of describing how these phenomena change. We find once
56 Oral sources and cultural identities

more in one small group of workers in our sample (4, born between 1916 and
1921) the positive hero figure who knows how to do everything with few
resources and contents himself with what he's got. Listening to their
self-representations, we discover that the ideal of 'know-how' or 'savvy' can
combine not only with different ideologies of work, but also with an ideology
which is its mirror-image, namely, knowing how best to spend one's time off
work. (The latter is, in fact, historically bound up with the former.) Ability to
cope with life becomes the ability to amuse oneself with nothing. Federico,
born in Turin in 1921, a turner at Fiat Lingotto and then at the Spa works:
Ah, I never stood still for a moment, not for a moment! Maybe you played bowls from
morning till evening, then afterwards you went home, ate, then went dancing, off
again! You never caught me at home! And now, instead life's, everything's changed -
there's more money than at one time, life's better than it was at one time in the sense
that ... not just from the point of view of food but there's more in the way of
entertainment too, there was much less in the way of entertainment at one time, but a
person could have a better time with very little.
Cristoforo (a mechanic in a small workshop, then at Itala, then Grandi
Motori) starts off his life-story by recalling the football in front of the Lingotto
plant, and goes on to describe his work at Fiat's, and then the evenings with
friends at the cafe. He was '22 to 23 years old' at the time (he was born in
In the evening when I did the evening shift, you left at 10, my mother came to wait for
me, took my bag, maybe brought me my overcoat so that I could take the tram
straightaway and go out and about. It was no millionaire's life, far from it, not like
now. A friend of mine had a 500, a Balilla, a Balilla, but he was already in trade, and
sometimes on a Sunday the whole lot of us went on a trip, there werefiveor six of us
lads. He was the only one who had a car, eh!
And where did you go, for example?
Ah, maybe we went to the mountains, nearby too, because we used to go skiing, and
so you put on all that stuff, what we called 'planks', the skis, no, we loaded it all on top
and then thefiveor six of us went in the old death-trap, as far as we could go, then we
went by foot \..
Not many people went skiing?
Eh, very, very few ... Compared to now, for example, what did we spend then?
Because we went every fortnight when we took the train.
Although those talking in this way are skilled workers, pride in knowing
how to amuse themselves rather than in knowing their job runs through their
life-histories: 'because life's not just work, is it! A bit of fun and bit of getting to
know people, getting to know people, having a chat, well . . . ' (Lelio, Turin
The idea of fixing things and knowing how to make the best of scarce
resources reappears in relation to amusements. The ability to enjoy oneself by
overcoming the obstacle presented by limited resources is stressed in the
language - this ranges from 'dodging the ticket-collector' on the tram going to
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 57

the football match and 'fixing it' to get two or three in on a single ticket, to
'scrounging' a lift for the Sunday skiing trips. Having to make do, from
childhood on, sharpens the wits in knowing how to seize the slightest
opportunity of making something into a game. Otello Dal Canto, a grinder at
SKF, who was sent to work in Sweden for a while because of his expertise,
chose to present himself in the second interview in the following way (in the
first he had preferred questions):
I was born in 1920,1 was born at 22 via Aosta, a building with a hundred families, the
balconies were long, the toilets outside and the water outside, like this ... And we
enjoyed playing tops, no? You drew a circle, the top had a thing with a steel tip, you
spun it and you put 5 or 10 cent pieces inside, and then by turning like this, you took it
in the hand and whoever managed to push the money outside the circle, won. You
played ... match-boxes had a little figurine, didn't they? And so you pulled off these
figurines, as I remember, at 5, 6 years of age, and you played a sort of marbles, they
were round, made of clay, some were glass, some steel, and there, too, you made a
circle, drew a line, put one here and all the others in a line ...
After describing the games with the top, figurines and marbles Otello went
on to recall the game with the flat stone with which you played for money
(gioco della 'ligia'), 'heads or tails', sliding on the ice, cirimela a. game involving
hitting a piece of wood pointed at both ends to make it fly as far as possible;
and then there was 'blindman's bluff, 'cops and robbers', and other games.
Otello explains how in the Spring, to help the father in the brick kilns, the
family moved to Mirafiori where they used to hunt hares and birds and go
fishing in the Sangone. Then he remembers pleasures which cost little - lefrise
(the damaged pastries sold at knocked down prices by the pastry shop); il
carubbo (the carob pods stolen from the horses); i pumin (fruit from trees in
Gorso Firenze); balancing-acts on the railway-lines; the grape-harvest in the
tavern courtyards; the ballad-singers in Porta Palazzo. And then again, there
were the stone-fights between the quartieri, the life of the oratory, burials with
the band of the oratory of Michel Rua. Finally, dancing and cinema, which
were to last into adult life.
The ability to enjoy oneself has its high point in the norms which govern
relations with girls. Here models of behaviour emerge which have been
practised from childhood onward:
I remember already at six, you already went with girls, you already played doctors to
their nurses, already touched one another, what! They're innocent games, you know,
but anyway it's what you did (Otello).
The art of conquest is being perfected in which, during a long apprenticeship,
male solidarity alternates with rivalry. To begin with, we have boys roaming
the quartiere like vagabonds with an eye to adventure, ready to seize opportu-
In the evening, with up to 15 or 16 sitting on a single step, where there was the
tobacconist's in Barriera di Milano, we spent the evening like that, you found some
young girl, you made ... eh! (Otello).
58 Oral sources and cultural identities

Then we have youths who put the fruits of their experience into practice, in
the space provided by socialising at a dance. Here, we have the unfolding of a
model of male education which demanded showing off and perseverance, and
having to come to terms with competition characterised by disparities in
I remember that going to, frequenting these dance-halls like Le Salere or even Gay's or
... there was always a penalty attached. You saw some beautiful girls who, maybe you
know how it is in life, no, you could havefixedsomething up, instead, worse luck, there
was people, even at that time, who had the smart car outside the hall, you know how it
is ... There were all types, there was those officer types, I remember it was a bit, let's
say, a penalty, a painful experience, you know, something banal in the end ... Life's
made like that ... And so it happened that unfortunately what I didn't like about
working at Fiat's was the shifts. The shifts were an obsession because, you see, if you
worked mornings the evening was free, you could go dancing, go out, maybe, as they
say, make a few conquests; the week after - 'bang!' - you were on evenings and so it was
all over, wasn't it ... You understand how it is [Laughs] ... You couldn't get up to
sweet T all! And it was a painful experience, because it was also a penalty, let's say
morally, you felt, you felt beaten, you know (Lelio).
To manage to 'fix something', 'make a few conquests' a careful plan of action
is put into operation which follows precise rules. In contrast to current forms
of behaviour, it attaches value to the ritualistic aspects such as mystery,
adventure and secrecy:
Nowadays they've too many things and they can't enjoy themselves any more, they've
too many things, too many things. Then again, nowadays at the tram-stop you see two
people kissing away how stupid can you be! But that's something best kept private, so
a kiss can lead to an embrace, it may be no-one sees you, so you feel something, but like
that, for all to see? Idiocy. It's meaningless, it's senseless, they don't see love as
important. Love's something private. We used to go to the cellar where nobody could
see us (Otello).
The contrast with today reintroduces the idea of moderation as a corrective to
knowing how to do everything with nothing. The contrast - on which these
subjects insist- is not just between old and young, but between 'Piedmontese'
and 'Southerners'. The latter do not have a sense of moderation which
accompanies a wise use of resources - a sense based not just on pride in one's
skill but on self-control.
The self-representation of knowing how to enjoy oneself shows continuities
with and differences from the image of the skilled worker. An element of
nostalgia is introduced in relating past and present which did not appear, un-
less in exceptional cases, in the stories of the older subjects. Almost all the
games mentioned are regarded as symbols of a world whose disappearance is
everyone's loss. In this narrative identity - fictional as it is, of course, in that
the subjects are married and have abandoned their life of pleasure-seeking,
which was never as all-embracing as in the stories - various themes are
tangled up. The theme of nostalgia alludes to a change in the forms of
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 59

working-class leisure activities which took place in Italy in the late twenties
and thirties (in Britain a similar change was taking place from 1910 onwards).
It is not just a matter of quantity, but of the type of amusements and
pastimes. The change is from those 'poor' and 'spontaneous' activities (the
tavern (osteria), the stroll with the family, the games Otello spoke about) to
the mass organised ones (the football match, the pictures, working people's
outings by train (treni popolari)).47 Whoever has experienced equivalent
transformations - we would hazard a guess - tends to picture the old forms of
amusement in 'folkloristic' terms which fossilise them, making them into
objects of curiosity.
The forms of self-representation in the life-histories mentioned seem
strongly influenced by the advent of mass entertainment. A change is regis-
tered in cultural priorities and values concerning behaviour which sets this
generation apart from the older or younger people. It is worth noting that,
once again, as in other cases, the social transformations are only touched on in
the life-histories which mention them indirectly, selecting experiences and
delivering factual information in the shape of value-judgements. It is the
relationship between past and present within a subjective interpretation and
not simply the past, nor merely a fleeting present- that oral sources can reveal.

14 Concluding hypotheses
Let us try and sum up our survey of self-portraits. The analysis of the
stereotypes found in the subjects' self-representations has shown a recur-
rence of cultural attitudes and outlooks.48 Then, the self-representations
themselves can be fitted into a spectrum. The images are most sharply defined
at each end, but they are also found in combinations in which they have either
dominant or subordinate roles.
At one extreme, one finds the ego of the natural rebel that never changes. Its
dynamism depends on the ironic use of split personality and a spirit of
intransigence that defies the given order of things. At the other extreme one
finds self-images which express the capacity to act on, change and resist a
hostile world through work. In some of these life-histories a model of
development (or rather improvement) is employed which does not bring in
the individual's personal side but only his or her social situation. The nature
of the self-presentation in terms of work tends to modify the formulation
always having been 'something', or, in this case, 'always having worked';
while the timeless and mythical note recurs in the description of factory-work,
it recalls the potential for putting the world to rights. Between these two forms
of self-presentation are found those of subjects who seek to establish sets of
values. The latter self-representations borrow forms of expression from
political and religious ideologies which emphasise the subjective choice of an
all-embracing outlook on the world.
60 Oral sources and cultural identities

The two opposite types of self-representations - the comic irreverence

image and serious 'know-how5 image - echo and complement one another,
illustrating the interrelation of cultural attitudes. They constitute the domi-
nant, though not the only features of a working-class and popular culture. The
other type of self-representation is inspired by hagiographic or religious
models which express the relationship between Man and transcendent reality.
It is interesting that the recurrent stereotypes fall into groups according to
gender. In women's life-histories the image of the born-rebel is prevalent (in
15 out of 33 cases); in those of the men, the theme of work dominates (in 15 of
34 cases). The fact that the women more often adopt the humorous model for
presenting themselves does not mean that they have not worked, that they do
not have pride in their work, nor that they are immune from various historical
forms of ideologies of work. Likewise, it is not possible to think of the men as
not participating in and upholding the culture of irreverence and humour. In
fact, we shall see (in chapter 2) the reappearance 'skill' and 'rebellion' as their
forms cross over in a sort of exchange of narrative roles resulting from the shift
of the level of discourse.
The choice of a narrative stereotype does not immediately express a
psychological identity, but a cultural acceptance of commonplace notions
about oneself, some more widespread in society than others, depending on
various factors, like gender. The subjects realise that there are two levels, that
is, that their story does not entirely tally with real life. But precisely because
they are telling a story, they resort knowingly to the stereotypes which
story-telling in their cultures requires.
It will be clear by now that self-representations do not 'reflect' everyday life,
though everyday life provides the raw material for the communication of
complex cultural information. In other words, it is used for symbolic
purposes. The fact that other levels of speech exist in the oral sources is
implicit in how they have been treated so far. The autobiographies have been
used for the factual or documentary information they contain each time
variations have been shown to occur between the subjects' self-represen-
tations and their 'real-life behaviour'. The self-images, in other words,
introduce us to a narrative universe which revives traditions existing before
the interview, adapting them and bringing them up to date. Real experience is
subsumed by the symbolic framework, and is selected and interpreted
according to its lights.
Therefore, what commenators have noted about the written autobiography
can be seen in many of the life-histories cited in this book. Starobinski has said
that autobiographies are always 'interpretations of oneself, not images of
'real life', while for Lejeune, they are constructions which reveal the culture
which has produced it and through which it reproduces itself. The life-history
is the place where 'stirrings of the memory' are transferred into pre-existing
moulds, adopted to 'define and represent the individual in the story' and to
Memories of self: autobiography and self representation 61

demonstrate 'the persistence in the present of an inner choice made in the

past5 (Guglielminetti). Memory in oral sources, too, is not the natural,
spontaneous, free expression of lived experience. However, unlike in litera-
ture, formal elaboration of autobiographical material does not happen 'by
dint of writing', or through that 'stylistic leap' which condenses theoretical
and psychological aspects.49 It happens the way experience and the flow of
memory fit into narrative forms, transmitted orally from generation to
generation by large and small social groups (the family, political club,
work-group, groups of women and groups of men).
It has only been partly possible through our survey to ascertain how far
back these forms go. The historical roots of individual traditions, it seems,
cannot be traced back farther than 130-150 years (e.g. women's desire for
independence, the Rome/Turin opposition). If, however, we are not speaking
about direct derivation, but of relations of kinship between visions of the
world, there are elements which take us back to themes analysed in the
historiography of sixteenth-century Europe. Four centuries and a territorial
span of continents would not represent too fearful a distance for the
dissemination of folklore. But it is the fear of turning a series of lively examples
into residual, ossified remains, that keeps us from pointing to more than
The survey of self-representations has thrown some light on the so-called
'historical reversal' with which, according to Bachtin, 'one represents as
already having taken place what, in reality, can and must be realised only in
the future'. 50 The self-portraits reveal a fixed identity where the subjects
present themselves as 'always having been something', or start to narrate
from the moment they made a crucial decision in the course of their lives. In a
few cases, we have seen a genuine development associated with the represen-
tation of self as 'demiurge' - the conquest of a social and economic identity -
and, in some cases, we have even seen a change of that form from its timeless
dimension to an outlook marked by the subject's own history and sense of
purpose, even if this is still subordinate and wayward.
'Fixed identity', then, can be considered a specific feature of self-represen-
tations in oral narration. This form of expression does not deal with the
individual's life in terms of notions such as intimacy, upbringing and
education. His relationship to the world and sense of self are not encompassed
in oral accounts. On the other hand, they deal with other forms of change,
such as the adoption of split personality or challenge to the given order.
It is, on the contrary, typical (historically) of written autobiography as a
genre that it is 'the history of the development of the personality';51 or, there is
the novel, during the course of which the subject grows, is enriched, and even
learns from mistakes. One is dealing with autobiography as a Western literary
genre. It belongs to the modern and contemporary period for which the
ideal-type, analysed by Dilthey, serves as a historical and theoretical point of
62 Oral sources and cultural identities

reference, even if that genre is presently undergoing crisis or change. For

Dilthey, autobiography was the highest expression of the historical identity of
the subject and of his freedom of self-determination. It was the expression of a
'connection brought about within the individual over the course of a life-time,
and which gives rise to constant striving for change' - this is what Dilthey
called development.
It is precisely that 'confronting of one's own life in a universally historical
manner' which is missing in our biographies. Dilthey found the consummate
example of this in Goethe's Poetry and Truth: 'The old man who looks behind
him feels every moment of the present as filled and determined by the past,
and, at the same time, as reaching out into the future; for him life is a process
of becoming'. It is a question of a 'development that proceeds gradually', even
if it is not necessarily evolutionary in kind.52
What does the prevalence of fixed forms of identity in the oral biographies
mean? Certainly not a lack of historical sense which can be attributed to
cultures deemed to be subordinate, nor the presumption that collective values
predominate over bourgeois individualism in working-class forms of self-
expression.53 Nor can one, following Lukacs's and Goldman's models of the
progress from the epic to the novel, establish a line of evolution from the
self-presentations that do not imply development to those that do. 54
Rather, the oral testimonies, or, better still, some parts of them, could be
put in that category Bach tin referred to as 'comic-serious', which includes
genres such as mime, fable, dialogue and satire. It can be maintained that
life-stories partake of genres older than writing - those which keep a basis in
their aural or oral character (unlike the novel which came into existence for
individuals to read to themselves in private, or which was in any case the
manifestation of the private within the public literary sphere).
The difference in the life-stories' representation of the individual narrator
from that of the classic autobiography could, therefore, depend on how the
culture of certain social strata and generations overlaps with what is specific to
oral genres.55 It is not just that one can observe a radical change in style when
the same individual is writing rather than talking. But, above all, one finds
that those same generations and social strata accept the form of open identity
when they adopt the literary genre requiring it.56 A study of the output of
working-class memoir writing could tell us more about this. In the absence of
such a study, let us look at one of the finest examples of this kind of writing, the
autobiography of Teresa Noce, born in 1900, herself a worker from Turin. Her
story is shaped in form and content by the idea of education, or rather,
self-education. After 'winning the first battle' (when the narrating subject
overcomes initial handicap), there follow signs of a real, formative experience:
So I discovered in one go, Turin and reading.
I discovered that there were workers and bosses, while until then, through my
mother, I had known only 'rich' and 'poor'.
Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation 63

My world expanded;
I was beginning to make distinctions;
I discovered [...] love.
Teresa Noce's story also combines other representations of self. There is the
ethical vocation:
I decided that once I was grown up I would be a school-teacher so as to teach all
children to read.
I decided, however, that believer or not, I would no longer go to church.
The rebel by nature:
I had a sharp tongue, an answer at the ready, and I didn't put up with injustice from
Alone, starving and rebellious.57
The same culture that expresses itself in this way through the literary genre
of autobiography, and accepts its formal rules, appears, however, to uphold
different rules of expression when it comes to oral renderings of stories. The
oral tradition revives older forms of expression which leave traces (chiefly on
how subjectivity is conceived) of mythological thought and magic, and
'archaic' cultural forms. The individual is always placed in the present
because the characters are 'timeless' and 'natural'.
These cultural and expressive forms cannot, however, be reduced to being
the stepping-stones to other forms which come later, and which they have
made possible (just as alchemy cannot just be considered as an imperfect
forerunner of chemistry). It would be a serious impoverishment of our
understanding were we to relegate them to the limbo of what is over and done
with. On the contrary, the oral self-representations maintain their contempo-
rary feeling precisely because of the traces of mythological thought and magic.
It can be said that in two senses they adhere to the psychic and cultural reality
of the 'ego', and contribute to making conscious its specifically historical
determinants. In the first place, they help one to think about continuity and
identity, not as gradual processes taking place in accordance with evolu-
tionary models, but as lives which include, apart, that is, from the long,
repetitive grind, sudden and dramatic changes and splitting of the personal-
ity. In the second place, the archaic representations of an 'ego' that 'has
always been' are put in a new light by findings in the field of psychology,
according to which there is nothing radically new in the history of the psyche,
nothing that is not the repetition and renewal of primary experience.
Therefore, contrary to the argument about the subject's disintegration or
lack of centre, the 'fixed identity' of the oral representation reveals its share of
truth. It is not the job of this work to reformulate the message in terms which
meet today's requirements, but to see to what extent it has contributed,
perhaps in unseen ways, in transmitting the sense of human continuity in
Part II
Oral sources and the history of
grass-roots cultural forms

In this part we examine conceptions of the world and of oneself that have already been
glimpsed in the analysis of cultural identities, only here they are seen as they appear in
the daily, anonymous acts of subversion of the Fascist period. These include jokes,
songs, graffiti, obscenities, etc. The memories of the subjects, supported by the
evidence of police records, contribute to a history that highlights the cultural conflict
involving opposing views of the world. Commonsense notions of Fascism contain a
kernel of truth but they need to be adequately contextualised rather than used to
reconstruct events or provide an overall historical assessment.
Instead of seeing these minor incidents of subversion as being insufficiently political
and merely regressive in form, they are seen as conflicts with a meaning, even if this is
not self-evident. Treating everyday cultural phenomena as important does not mean
isolating them from politics; on the contrary, the processes dealt with here reveal the
temporary and shifting nature of the boundaries between politics and everyday life,
pointing to the considerable areas previously segregated and marginalised that
became open to politicisation. Hence the demands for the restoration of the original
independence of everyday cultural forms in response to the violent, coercive and
disguised politicisation carried out in the Fascist period. This opposition, moreover,
can be seen to extend to all processes of politicisation in which overwhelming priority is
given to one area of life over another (e.g. the economic over the cultural).
A similarly instrumental approach is found in analyses according to which cultural
resistance is only a stage on the path to fully-fledged political opposition, and can be
dispensed with once power has been won. However, the 'regression' into popular and
archaic cultural forms, which made workers' opposition to Fascism ambiguous, was
not the product of defeat. Their survival was also due to the Socialist and Communist
political cultures which were incapable of dealing with the 'dark side' of the individual
and of mankind. Neither of them (nor, for that matter, the Anarchists) confronted the
issues raised by the realm of magic and the 'unchanging' nature of everyday life.
While this part of the book deals with the cultural forms through which the
experience of Fascism was understood, and not directly with Fascism itself, it throws
light on the relationship between the masses and the exercise of power. It shows that it
is impossible to deduce the presence of consent from the absence of political
opposition. Equally, it shows that political dissent is not to be confused with cultural
opposition. The relationship to the regime, which also had a psychological side, was
complex and contradictory. This was especially the case for the working class, which
drew, on the one hand, on an industrial and scientific culture, and, on the other, on the
oldest of popular traditions. In consequence, it played a mediating role between the
66 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

educated middle class and the marginal social groups. Its adoption of older cultural
forms was, therefore, never a straightforward 'regression5 to a 'natural state'. The first
signs of popular nostalgia give a clear indication of the gap between industrial workers
and an older culture.
2 ** Fascism and the symbolic order in
everyday life

1 The memory of Fascism

The memory of Fascism in our testimonies, in keeping with the fixed pattern
of narrative in memories of oneself, widens the gap between the regime and
the subjects, including even those who admit to having been members of the
PNF and worn the insignia. Fixed identity must be matched at the narrative
level, by a sharply defined 'otherness': Fascism is precisely 'other' than
oneself. From this derives the juxtaposing of good and evil, life and death, the
oppressed and the powerful, which takes on various forms, according to who
the witnesses are. These forms are not, however, like those descriptions of the
long and painful process of reaching awareness - that passage from darkness
to light - to which so much of the autobiographical writing of intellectuals and
the self-educated alludes. Such an outlook is also apparent from the titles: The
Long Journey through Fascism, The Hard Years, The Turncoat.1
The identification of Fascism with evil and a source of national shame, and
the consequent desire to keep quiet about it, even among those not actually
responsible, and who were powerless to act, acquiescent or passive onlookers,
signifies that power makes those who are subjected to it complicit in its
exercise.2 This involvement explains the frequent recurrence in the memoirs,
and also in the historiography of the period immediately following the fall of
Fascism, of a sense of shame, guilt, silence and injury. The historical research
of the last 20 years has partially dispelled this shadow, but at the expense of a
series of concerns found in much of the writing of the 15 years following the
Liberation, namely, the examination of behaviour, feelings, the symbolic
aspect of Fascism and of resistance to it.
Oral recollection, oscillating as it does between silence and censorship on
the one hand, and the recall of the minutest, almost 'insignificant' episodes on
the other hand, brings us back to these issues. In the first place, memory
resorts to tricks and leaps in time. This analysis applies to one of the most
frequent forms of mental association found in the testimonies for the years
68 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

1919-21 and 1943-5 which put the inter-war period in the background. The
mental leap from one great moment of social tension and collective identity to
the other, is not, however, just a way of keeping quiet about the 20 years
locked away between these two high points. It is already an historical
interpretation in its own right, a way of redeeming something from the defeat.
For the subjects who survived, what happened afterwards is inextricably
bound up with what happened then. The events at the beginning of the 1920s
only fully come to light and acquire meaning by piecing together the period as
a whole, and taking account of subsequent events up to the present day.
Likewise, certain aspects of the written sources can be interpreted in the light
of insights drawn from contemporary oral accounts.
If leaps in memory are often conspicuous in the testimonies of those who
have always been interested in politics as a specific sphere, other areas of
silence can be discerned. Many testimonies, for example, say little or nothing
about free time, in which aquiescence is organised through radio, cinema,
travel or the dopolavoro (the after-work leisure organisation, set up by the
Fascists). On the other hand they talk a great deal about work (though not,
unless asked, about the Fascist unions), about marriage, children, material
and spiritual privation; in other words, about an everyday life that does not
bear the obvious imprint of Fascism. But what is defined as 'silence' seems
more pervasive because of the focus of existing historical research. If one
widens the terms of reference, however, the silence is not total.
Despite reticence and repression, many things are said about Fascism. A
theme that often emerges, even if in passing or as 'hearsay', is that of violence.
Some events are particularly vivid in oral accounts, such as the December
1922 Fascist massacre of workers in Turin, the recollection and recounting of
which extended beyond the group of eye-witnesses, and was passed on
through the accounts of relatives and neighbours. 3 In addition to the
explicitly political violence of the 1920s, it is the web of repression that spread
into everyday life over the subsequent decade which emerges from the
narrative accounts. It is composed of a myriad of small events recounted
through recurrent narrative forms through which the subjects tell of their own
and other people's adversity. Instead of being overwhelmed by it, they are
thus able to rise above it by means of an old tradition of story-telling. A
representative example of this goes as follows:
The only time that I was beaten up I was coming from Bordighera, I arrived at Savona
and was looking for an acquaintance - a family friend, in via ... who had set up a
grocer's shop in via ..., on via what yer call it, corso Principe Amadeo ... I think ... I
was wandering around there and heard a shout 'Hats off!' It was the Fascists marching
by, but I didn't think I was meant to take my hat off too, I thought that only those from
Savona took their hats off, I was walking down the street with my beret on and whitish
jacket with the half-belt at the back, I was walking down the street, minding my own
business ... 'Hats off!' I felt a blow here, on the head, they sent my beretflying.Well
I'll be damned! What, what can I say? My God! What a way to welcome people to
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 69
Savona! What a welcome! How nice! Yes. I went up to two carabinieri in full uniform,
who were standing there like two stuffed dummies and said to them: 'How come
someone who is going about his business gets slapped in the face when he doesn't even
know who by or what for?' They were like two stuffed dummies - an old man came out
- let's say one of those types who give sound advice, and says: 'Hey lad! You always
think you're in the right! - but you can be in the wrong too. When they shout hats off,
you take it off- nothing will happen heh! And put the cap back on, otherwise you'll cop
it again, see? He, who is careful . . . eh?' 'Thanks' I said.
To appreciate the richness of the spoken language in the anecdote, which had
evidently been tried out repeatedly in story-telling, one needs to hear the
alternation of the two dialiects - Piedmontese and Ligurian - as well as the
Italian, and the tone of Bernadino Favole's voice when he is acting the fool.
The story-teller is, in fact, none other than the person we have already met in
the gallery of self-portraits in the guise of the unwitting, ingenuous fool. This
time-worn device of self-irony is the same as that found in the mask character
of Bertoldino who, when his turn comes, unmasks the powerful. Such a state
of mind is always present in those who manage to laugh freely at oppression,
acting with naivete, which according to Freud 'arises when someone takes
absolutely no notice of an inhibition and therefore seems to overcome it
without any effort'. In so doing one of the main comic forms is created.4 Again
and again the testimonies present this symbiosis between violence and
laughter, between Fascism and the comic.
There are a great many tales like Favole's, as well as examples of humour,
funny stories, and wit. Yet these only take on their full significance when
elements found in the oral sources lead to supporting evidence from docu-
ments in the archives. The police files on small-time, everyday subversive
activities enable us to fit the recollections of injustices suffered and irreverent
behaviour into a vast spectrum of similar incidents: insults to the Duce,
subversive graffiti, shows of anti-fascist sentiment. Such episodes appear
insignificant if their symbolic meaning is discounted, as is the case when they
are evaluated in relation to anti-fascist political activity. Besides being
overwhelmed by the logic of events, they seem personal and subjective.
According to the Chiefs of Police, these episodes were numerous but 'indi-
vidual in character' and, 'rather than anti-fascist ideas or the principle of
collective organisation, reveal the prejudices or particular states of mind of
those who carry them out'. They are the work of'discontented and dishear-
tened elements rather than the expression of a form of planned propaganda'
and are similar in character to the 'sporadic murmurings of discontent or
isolated acts of insubordination of some drunkard'.
Although the police noted the relationship which existed between the
periodic intensification of incidents of hostility towards the regime and great
international political events - the war in Spain, particularly Guadalajara,
the events in the French labour movement in 1936-7, and the resistance at
Stalingrad in 11942 - they distinguish within the 'field of subversive activities'
70 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

between these actions and those of organised opponents. By contrast, they

explain them as 'a reflection of discontent with the cost of living' resulting
from suffering caused by physical deprivation and hardship. In this light, the
rumours, subversive writings and anonymous protests constitute activities
which are not collective and systematic, liable to develop on a dangerous path,
but represent the mere 'expression of disappointment at the largely economic
hardship' 5 of everyday life.
Such acts make sense not so much in relation to the political sphere as in the
context of a conflict at the symbolic level. In the opinion of the rank-and-file
activists, too, the symbolic is usually treated as irrelevant compared to
political and economic questions and as lacking historical significance. The
first problem, therefore, is to sketch an outline of the symbolic level on the
basis of the conflicts that characterise it. This survey of incidents of hostility to
Fascism covers Turin in the 1930s. These years were selected because,
according to current historical interpretation, they cover at least one period of
stabilisation and consent - 1934-6 - and another period when this was eroded
(particularly c. 1938-9), though without reaching the point of open opposition
prior to the outbreak of the war. These ten years are particularly interesting
because they allow us to ascertain the forms of conflict at the symbolic level in
a period when they were, if not extinguished, at least minimised and
marginalised, a faint echo of the material and armed conflict of the 1920s.6
In the second half of the 1930s, a greater number of insults are recorded
than in the early years, and with the beginning of the Second World War they
were seen to multiply, almost as though the hardship pushed the humorous
and ironic vein to the limit. Despite the increase in incidents, the quality of
everyday subversive activities remains basically the same and a whole range
of attitudes and behaviour remain unchanged from those of the pre-fascist
period. Therefore, the doubt remains whether the growing frequency of
reported cases was due to greater police vigilance rather than to a real
increase in such incidents. Further research and comparative study could
perhaps tell us more. The findings represent, however, an aspect of 'the
tightening of the totalitarian grip' of the regime in the second half of the 1930s.
It was a moment when the public engulfed the private, when attempts were
being made to reform the Italian way of life and to instil a 'shared mentality', a
national culture, in place of the cultural diversity characteristic of Italian
society at that time.7

2 Everyday political speech

The stifling of the freedom of expression by the liberal democratic order is a
notorious and fundamental characteristic of the Fascist regime. Up till now, it
has been studied mostly in terms of the suppression of the spoken or written
word in public life and in politics. Pride of place in the process of suppression
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 71

goes to the progressive elimination of the freedom of the press, beginning in

1923, which was carried out through bans, compulsion and pressure. This
reached the point of the 'clean-up books' campaign of 1938-9 (bonifica libraria)
which included the seizure of books that were considered anti-fascist, and the
publication of a blacklist of authors who were persona non grata to the regime.8
However, the attack on freedom of expression in the written word reached
right into the private sphere. For example, the restrictions imposed on
freedom of correspondence by the postal code of 1936 gave the authorities the
right to 'look over, copy and proceed to confiscate correspondence' (article
12). They could, therefore, interrupt the flow of mail 'that could constitute a
danger to the security of the State, or inflict damage on people or things, or
that might be contrary to the law, public order or standards of decency'
(article 13).9
Similarly in the case of the spoken word, and, even more directly, the right
of association, the bans made it impossible for parties, clubs, associations and
meetings to exercise freedom of expression. The Unified Code of Public
Order of 1926, reiterated and confirmed in the 1931 version, rode roughshod
over freedom of expression in every form, whether written, oral or symbolic.
The regulations even went so far as to include, as examples of subversion,
'shouts of a seditious nature or damaging to the good name of the authorities,
or at any rate threatening to public order', not to mention 'the waving of
banners and emblems that are symbols of social subversion, revolt or slander
against the state, government or the authorities'. 10
The stifling of free speech by the authorities was inevitably accompanied
by the invasion or control of public space,11 and by developing forms of
repression, specifically by punishment and detention, such as the Special
Tribunal and exile to remote parts under police surveillance (confino). It is
police repression, applied by means of warnings, threats and the imposition
of confino, not judicial repression carried out by means of ordinary and special
tribunals, which concerns us here, because it deals more directly with the
interface between politics and private life. In fact, it was forms of expression
like graffiti on walls, insults directed at political figures belonging to the
regime, and politically inspired grumbling and wisecracks, which the police
dealt with directly without resorting to court, and which were progressively
We must, therefore, ask ourselves what the attack on freedom of expression
could have meant, not so much for the literate part of the population, or for
those who were politically involved, but for those who participated in the
mainstream of oral culture, and who were only marginally or occasionally
concerned with politics. A large part of the Turin working class, despite its
high level of politicisation as well as literacy, certainly fell into this third
category. The first repercussions of the authoritarian regime on them were
the attacks on the blend of chat and political discussion that took place
72 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

every day, wherever people used to meet up socially and exchange conver-
Even idle remarks about current affairs, vague hints about the responsibili-
ties of the government in power and the traditional habit of blaming
everything on the authorities, were criminalised. The fact that these habits
were kept alive, had even gained a new lease of life is illustrated in a number of
records of the same kind of episode. If comment on current affairs declined
(not only through fear, but also from lack of information and the strait-jacket-
ing of the press and radio), some signs of dissent always made themselves felt
on the most sensational occasions. However, it was often the other petty,
everyday conflicts that brought them to light.
On the 29 August 1935, one Perrero, Bernardo Mario di Angelo born in Turin on
24.2.1908, moulder at Fiat and member of the MVSN* reported to the Commander of
the First Legion 'Sabauda' that the previous day, during the lunch-break in section
S22 of Fiat Lingotto, the worker Giovanni Cerrutti (a machine moulder), speaking of
Abyssinia had pronounced more or less the following words: 'Mussolini shouts at the
top of his voice but all the time he's scared of Abyssinia and England, and if he could,
he would willingly turn back, because the English, both as soldiers and as a very
intelligent and wealthy nation, are worth a hundred times as much as the Italians. The
Italian army is also against the war in Abyssinia. Only our newspapers make us look
big. Italy is at the bottom of the world league and we Italians are the most miserable.
Soon even France will turn her back on us and all this thanks to Mussolini But he'll
leave his mark sure enough.'...
When interrogated, Cerrutti declared that he often used to discuss sport and
especially football with Perrero. Since he supported the team 'Torino', Perrero often
made fun of him for the frequent defeats his team had suffered in the previous season.
On 28 August, with the foolish aim of getting his own back, and to get Perrero riled, he
began to talk about the I talo-Abyssinian conflict, sure of succeeding in his aim, since
he knew his mate belonged to the militia and was proud of the fact. From the
information gleaned, Cerrutti turns out to be of good moral conduct and a conscien-
tious worker.
Often the opening line of these acts of defiance in the face of the regime's
standardisation of language is self-denigrating: 'We Italians are the most
wretched of people', 'I'm ashamed to be Italian', 'Italians are all thieves'.
Such language makes inertia a counterweight to the regime's efforts to create
the new Italian, its rhetoric of the Empire and the bombastic threats to other
countries. However, the equally ideological and stereotyped theme of self-
denigration, which is embodied in the image of the shabby and dishonest
Italian, reflects elements of real experience: the loss of political power that the
working class once had, the emigration at home and abroad and the cultural
and regional divisions between workers.
6 September 1935, Francesco Colato, born in Turin on 31.7.1907, worker at the Fiat
Iron Foundry, talking to four fellow workers in the factory, asserted that 'Italy should
have been satisfied with what other nations had assigned to her because the Italians
* Militia Voluntaria della Sicurezza Nazionale - Voluntary Militia for National Security.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 73

are only big mouths'. To the objections of his fellow workers, he said: Tm ashamed to
be Italian and I don't give a f... what anyone says. If I didn't have to, I certainly
wouldn't be here.' Told off by Penna, who called him 'a miserable wretch', Colato
came to blows with him and had to be separated by his fellow workers. Held and
interrogated, Colato reported that having fallen into an argument with Penna and
been offended by his remark: 'You miserable wretch, you always ate badly where you
came from. You had to come to Turin to escape starvation'; he replied, 'F... Italians
like you.' He explained that with such language he only wanted to make it understood
that the Piedmontese did not have the right to insult people who were not from the
same region. It is worth noting that Colato, although born in Turin is considered by his
fellow workers as Venetian because since he had lived in Cologna Veneta from the age
of 2 to 16 he didn't speak the local dialect. The episode is characterised by regional
rivalry, not anti-national hatred.13
Repressive interference in everyday conversation, with its scraps of criticism
of the regime, spilt over into pre-existing areas of conflict, and so affected
discussion quite unconnected with politics. It invaded areas of privacy
previously left alone by the regime - private conversation, meeting-places,
personal behaviour. (Many of the individuals involved in the episodes cited
were known as 'conscientious workers', not involved in politics.) Keeping a
close check on people's conversations was beyond the capabilities of the
police, and so the collaboration of informers was crucial, both for reporting
and testifying to the offences committed. Activists in the mass Fascist
organisations took on the role, but so did ordinary citizens motivated by
revenge or spite. This is an aspect of the wider politicisation of civil society
and its reabsorption by the state.
(In August 1937) two militia men of the MVSN, who were Fiat workers, reported to
the Commander of the No. 1 Legion Sabauda that their fellow worker, Gildo Pollino
(born at Verelongo 27.5.1889) often expressed negative opinions about Fascism.
Among other things, he was heard to say that 'he once had a windmill that went to rack
and ruin because of Fascism' and that 'you can only live on the pay that you get today
for two days of the week. Let's hope that it'll come to an end like everything else in this
world', and passed negative judgement on the Italian volunteers to Spain.
The aforementioned, while not being a member of the PNF previous to the event
referred to, had shown no sign of taking a political position. He turns out to be of good
moral character. He is married with four children, who are members of the regime's
youth organisations.14
Complaining about your own fate under the regime was often unwittingly
bound up with criticisms of its policies. These verbal protestations had a
mechanical aspect, almost like a reflex action, because the political content
was secondary to the personal conflict or eternal lament, which was not
concerned with making demands, and still less with overturning the powers
that be. However, they ended up by defending a working-class culture that
was traditionally imbued with political aspirations and awareness. They
formed fertile soil for initiatives and actions related to political life.
The directionless and unchanging nature of these forms of dissent distin-
74 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

guish them from others which sometimes share their anonymity, but which
can be defined as explicitly political. These include, for example, writings
referring openly to Lenin, Stalin or Russia, or speeches and actions (even just
letters to relatives) that allude to, or border on more or less organised
underground anti-fascist activity. Those who have studied such phenomena
have rightly been able to trace them back to the activities of exiled party
organisations above all those of the Communist Party and their underground
network in Italy. Less convincingly, they attribute the more informal and
transitory forms of dissent, like those we have studied, to a generic 'rebel-
liousness', which is not given any oppositional status, because it is only
partially political.15 Instead of emphasising the difference, it would be more
useful to see how the forms of political dissent are steeped in, and bound up
with indifference to politics as such. (Even in the police records they are not
kept strictly separate.) 16 It is not, therefore, a question of claiming for the
latter a completely political character that they do not have, but of discovering
their particular character, context and links with even less political expres-
sions of discontent. These give eloquent testimony to the wide scope for

3 Resistance to the language of totalitarianism

The cases of'subversive' use of language are so numerous and of such a kind
as to imply a more widespread unease than that which we have so far
examined. Apart from the habitual expressions outlawed by the regime's new
repressive discipline, there were also signs of linguistic confusion and disorder
such as parodies, shifts in meaning and double meanings that can only be
understood against the background of the regime's complex and contradict-
ory linguistic policy.
It was contradictory because one found side-by-side purism and Musso-
lini's predilection for neologisms, the encouragement of dialect and its
repudiation, and redundant forms of expression with pressure to use everyday
vernacular. All in all, Mussolini is recognised as having acted as a mediator in
the way he communicated and expressed himself. This was in line with the
strategy for gaining legitimacy that entailed dropping the anti-conformism of
D'Annunzio and the Futurists, reinterpreting them in a moderate fashion
which was more acceptable to the Italian middle classes.17
However, other important pressures were exerted to achieve uniformity.
During the two wars a process of systematic 'Italianisation' took place in the
wake of waves of immigration to the cities and the spread of mass media (the
'talkies' and radio). This built up the pressure for the use of a standard
Italian, spreading a single, uniform model of language from the centre to the
far corners of the land. 18
In general (perhaps even because of these contradictory processes), one
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 75

could speak of the process, initiated by Fascism, of undermining the power of

language by using it in such a way as deprived it of its cognitive force and
power of association. Language was used, instead, as a means of achieving a
magical, mystical unity by giving preference to non-verbal forms of communi-
cation in the rituals of public life: the choreography of public ceremonies, the
use of military and paramilitary uniforms, flags and banners and the Roman
salute. But, above all, the regime twisted words to mystify, covering up,
cloaking and creating a screen against the real world.19
So the invasion of language took a form which went well beyond the simple
suppression of freedom of political speech: it meant the creation of a
totalitarian language through the introduction of new forms of speech and
symbolic expression which took over all areas of communication. The 'active5
reinterpretation of history, which Italian Fascism carried out by attempting,
among other things, to make itself the bearer of Roman lineage and the
classical tradition, also formed part of this process.20
However, equally relevant for this study is the expansion of mass communi-
cations which took place in all industrial societies, but which, in Italy, was
conditioned by the regime's policies. The whole process takes on a political
colouring because of the repression by the authorities of free political
discussion, quite apart from the role of its own propaganda. The pivot on
which the linguistic and cultural struggle revolved was always the Fascists'
attempt to draw up a new ideological map for the 'Italian political continent'
that would wipe out and replace the previous forms of language. 21 Therefore,
an initial interpretation of the parodies and 'subversive' slips of tongue is that
they presuppose linguistic violence and semantic manipulation by the regime
and refer back to what has been repressed and replaced.
Let us take as an example the following litany devised by two unemployed
friends in Turin in 1935, one a labourer and the other a cobbler. On 23
November 1935 . . . 'at about 11 o'clock at night, two Fascists who were going
down Via San Donato, heard Giuseppe Cavallerio shout: "Long live the
Duce!" and Giuseppe Naula reply: "Sh .." Both were drunk. They were taken
first to the 'Michele Bianchi' district branch, and then to the Commisariat of
San Donato and interrogated. The two arrested men admitted the fact, and
Naula declared, in his defence, that he usually said "Shit" when he wanted to
shut someone up. Therefore he did not intend to cause offence to His
Excellency, the Head of Government.' 22
The full comic effect of the parodies can only be grasped if one bears in
mind the kind of question-and-answer routine with the crowd, initiated as a
daily occurrence by D'Annunzio at Fiume, and then largely taken over by
Mussolini. This technique consisted in turning to the crowd with a three-part
or (less frequently) a four-part question, to which the crowd repeatedly
replied with the slogan 'To us!' In other cases it was a question of replying
simply 'yes' or 'no' to a series of questions or even to a single question. The
76 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

place of the masses in Mussolini's politics is illustrated by their role in such a

dialogue. They were forced to give ready-made replies in monosyllables, to
rhetorical questions delivered in thundering tones, and had to act out their
role in public of confirming what was said, giving credence to the illusion that
they were a single body brought together in spiritual communion. The ritual
of the performance was heightened, by drawing on and manipulating the 'real
procedures of religious ceremonials5.23
The parody by our two drunks takes up this theme, perhaps because the
genre of parody, historically, draws on the incantations of religious liturgy.
These acquired particular poignancy when applied to Mussolini and make
the caricature cut two ways against the fascio and against the Church. The
second element, while certainly always implicit in a country like Italy,
because of the considerable presence of the clergy and therefore also of an
anti-clerical tradition, seems to have played a supporting role. The rhythms
and familiarity of the Catholic liturgy were ideally suited to concealing an
insult to the regime. To give another example, the same thing happened with
that 'Prayer of the Italians5 to which the Prefecture of Turin referred as the
'well-known libellous manuscript5. It was stuck on to billboards in 1941, on
'the same night of 27 November in Piazza Vittorio Veneto on the corner of Via
Bava and in Via Viotti on the corner with Via Pietro Micca, under cover of
darkness, and in the fog5. The message was not passed on by word of mouth
because it was too complicated to remember, but it was ideal for reading
aloud to an audience:
The Prayer of the Italians
O beloved Duce go to Hell
O you ass of a Duce - get lost
O handsome Duce - vanish into thin air
O puffed up Duce - disappear
O oceanic Duce drop dead
O blessed Duce - be damned
O winged Duce - so to the front line (Marmara)*
O Captain Duce - take a running jump the sooner the better, so be it.
(A 100 days of indulgence, granted by Pope Pius IX.)24
(Note the recurrence of terms belonging to official rhetoric, such as 'oceanic5,
'Captain 5 , 'winged5 which, taken out of context, caused great amusement to
those who were aware of their contrived sound.)
So we have taken a step away from the factory towards the environment of
unemployed and lower-middle-class people who were on the fringes of the
industrial working class and often drawn into its social life. Apart from
reminding us that such forms of parody were contagious, these examples help
to give an idea of the cultural climate. In fact, one finds protests in the

*A region between Libya and Egypt where battles took place between the English (under
Rommel) and the combined Italian and German forces in 1940-2.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 11

factories which also ironically adopt the religious tone; for example, the
writing discovered in the toilet at the Lancia factory in 1940: ''Credo', remember
the worker has too many to maintain.' 25
It should also be underlined that linguistic expressions of a derisory or
ironic kind were not limited to the popular classes. One finds them in all social
strata and even in literature. It is no accident that Silone's The School for
Dictators begins with a series of plays on words: inspiration or 'Spring' of
National Socialism becomes a Spring of beer, and those who drink are filled
by the (Aryan) spirit. Piazza San Sepolcro, the square where Italian Fascism
was first launched, is said to have a name resembling 'the title of a gothic
novel'. The adoption of these jokes, perhaps even more than direct parody,
shows the profound link between Fascism and language. 26 It is important that
the working class, with variations of language and sensibility, shared in and
carried forward the linguistic and cultural struggle, even in an individual and
spontaneous way.
One of the simplest and most common ways of linking religion and politics
is through blasphemy. This also formed part of the popular comic tradition,
although, in this sentence, it is applied to the regime, rather than to religion.
Here Arturo Gunetti recalls how an acquaintance of his behaved when he had
to neglect his shop to observe the Fascist sabbath:
The number of times he swore 'Christ', when in uniform - he was a lieutenant in the
militia. On Saturdays he always said: 'I've loads of work to do in the shop on
Saturdays, and these pains in the arse pick on that day to come and pester me. Why
can't they do it on Mondays? ... 'Well, people work on Mondays' ... 'The others
But parody took many other forms. Often it took place in the factory as well.
For example, the Fascist initials were made into a joke: the initials GIL* were
universally known as Gioventu /ncretinita Lentamente [Young Cretins] as we
know from the oral and written sources:
(In January 1942, the police were informed that) the works foreman of the SA
Carburatori Zenith, Giovanni Garino, continually showed his hostility towards
Fascism, both towards workers who were members of the PNF and GIL, and by
mocking the institutions of the regime which they represented by calling the 'Youth of
Lictorian Italy' 'the Young Cretins'.
Garino's determined anti-fascist stance has been confirmed by three workers in the
aforesaid establishment, who have further stated that the accused very often wiped out
the subversive graffiti that they found in the factory straightaway, without reporting it
to the manager. Finally, the worker Giuseppe Porta has declared that when they had to
stay away from work to attend the premilitary training course, Garino told him 'You
belong to the "Youth made into cretins by Fascism"' (Gioventu Incretinita

* Gioventu Italiana del Littorio - Youth of Lictorian Italy. The lictor was a bearer of arms in the
Roman Court, and was used by the Fascists to claim their descendance from Ancient Rome.
78 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

The substitution of words that perhaps allude unconsciously to those taken by

Fascism from the traditions of the labour movement28 is also a procedure
suited to parodying slogans. Slogans whose impact relies on the play of words
and trick phrases, rather than any substantive concepts, are open to further
twists and turns of this kind. It is well known that Fascism used slogans and
maxims physically to invade public space; they were not only recited and
shouted on demonstrations and broadcast over the radio and loudspeaker,
but were also writ large on houses, banners and billboards. Once again the
D'Annunzian expedition of 1919-20 serves as a model.* However, the face of
the city was changed by a decisive new factor, as important, perhaps, as the
impact of the automobile. That is, the cities of the 1930s were plastered with
authoritarian and declamatory slogans. Some were permanent, but others
consisted of 'written emphemera', such as publicity for events, exhibitions,
parades and celebrations.29
Infinite parodies were cast against this backdrop. A word change sufficed to
make 'Long Live the Duce, who lead us to victory' into 'Long Live the Duce
who drives us to misery', or 'Long Live the Duce who leads us to death'. 30
Among the parodies found in the Turin factories many examples can be cited
of'Aim to win and we shall win' (the slogan with which Italy's involvement in
the Second World War had begun), for example, the inversion 'Aim to lose
and we shall lose' at the Fiat Ricambi in Via Marocchetti, the addition of the
question mark 'Aim to win, we shall win?' in the toilet in the maintenance
section of Fiat in Via Cignal 37, the inscription of the slogan in a plaster cast of
a fish, symbol of April Fool's Day found on the materials box, attached to the
conveyor in the 8/M shop of Fiat Mirafiori, in April 1942, and a rough version
of the famous film title 'Winning - Eternal Illusion' found at Fiat Mirafiori on
the inside door of the toilet of section 82 workshop 9/M, staircase 44, corridor
4. 31 To sum up, if Fascism stressed the conventional aspect of language,
dismantling and reassembling new chains of meaning, and thereby greatly
increasing the gap between the signifier and the signified, the 'subversiveness
of the arbitrary use of language' took Fascism as its word and went beyond it.
Free association of an almost infantile kind, which linked words according to
sound not sense, or punned in a mocking way, stood a high chance of success.
This momentarily reinstated the polysemantic nature of speech, namely its
ambivalent relationship to the real world (rather than its total isolation from
the world). This flexible response to Fascism's martial and triumphalist din
escaped control because of its deftness of touch. Moreover, there was an
element of self-mockery in yielding to the pressures of propaganda (as for
example in Antonio Gunetti's version of a famous slogan 'You want to be
healthy? Drink Ferrochina Bisleri' which went: 'You want to be healthy?
Then don't celebrate Mayday'). However, it also made the enemy a party to
subversion. Reliance on rhyme, alliteration and dissonance forces people to
* D'Annunzio, a celebrated writer and ardent nationalist, led an expedition to reclaim Fiume for
Italy in which greater attention was paid to spectacle than to military calculation.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 79

guess the missing words (and, in addition, invites memorising). For example,
the graffiti found on the wall of the mineral water factory in Via Chatillon in
1937 is incomplete. It only makes sense in as far as it brings to mind a
well-known nursery rhyme. The graffiti went:
Qui giace Starace Here lies Starace
vestito di orb ... dressed in mourn ...
The full version reads:
Qui giace Here lies
Achille Starace Achille Starace
vestito d'orbace dressed in mourning
di nulla capace capable of nothing
requiescat in pace32 May he rest in peace
The police records contain a similar case concerning the following words
painted in red on a wall in Cumiana:
15 anni de Fascismo e 2 di Impero
si m ...
It was concluded that 'Here the unknown person responsible stopped for fear
of being caught.' The ending is thought to be as follows: 'Si mangia pane
nero' 33 ('15 years of Fascism and 2 of Empire and now the bread you eat is
black rye').
As on many similar occasions, Hitler's visit to Italy in 1938 inspired further
inventiveness. The Fiat worker Giovanni Lavarino (born in 1897 in Livorno
Ferraris) made the following comment while drinking with friends in a tavern
in Via Bologna one evening in May: 'Hitler comes to Rome and we must pay
the costs. We are fed up to here with the f... Duce and the dulciume - ever since
the occupation of the factories we've been dominated by a single man - we're
idiots!'34 The pun is more immediate if the sentence is understood in
Piedmontese, as was certainly intended in the original, because dussum means
both duciume a disparaging term for everything to do with the duce and
dolciume - which means 'sticky sweets'. The resulting nonsense evokes
memories of children's verse.
This last analogy suggests a ready-made interpretation of the phenomena
which we are surveying. Taken together they could be seen in terms of
regression, in the sense both of individual development (back to infantile
forms of expression) and of collective development (in forms typical of a
primitive popular culture). If this is true, as it undoubtedly is in part, it shows
the force of the infantile and primitive as bulwarks of identity; and can be seen
as a line to which one can retreat, the ultimate defence where one can hold
one's ground, when the organised, political forms of solidarity have collapsed.
Much older forms of solidarity were now re-discovered, which had been
manipulated and crushed by political organisations in the past, and on which
later forms of solidarity had been based.
Furthermore in the Italy of the 1930s, if the formulae used by the regime
were of Catholic popular, Socialist or D' Annunzian origin, the adaptation that
80 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

they underwent for totalitarian political ends was new, as was the national
scale of mass manipulation. In this context resonances also ended up having
'regressive' forms that undermined the propaganda that was being spread.

4 Song
Apart from speech, song constituted another fundamental form of verbal
expression that was the terrain of endless struggle and the object of conquest.
Early Fascism had already entered the territory of popular, Anarchist and
Socialist song. The Fascists had taken these over, making small alterations
and obvious word changes as they had done with the songs of the First World
War, including those belonging to the Fiumean legionaries. Yet the tone and
stereotypes of the lyrics were often the same as those of the anti-fascist and
democratic repertoire.35
Asvero Gravelli, one of the best-known collectors of Fascist songs, justified
this appropriation on the grounds of Fascism's continuity with the Risor-
gimento (the movement for the unification of Italy), and the regional, popular
tradition. Gravelli lays claim to the first forms of Fascist culture with a typical
contradictory leap - 'Fascist music did not exist in 1920, maybe there was
martial music, but even this is uncertain. The music was that of the cudgel'.
Soon afterwards, however, Gravelli declared that Fascism too 'had its songs.
They were a kind of transformation and adaptation' of popular songs or
political and war songs.
The transformation of political songs played a key role in this symbolic
occupation through provocation and direct defiance. Gravelli records the
example of the revised version of Bandiera Rossa (The Red Flag) which
changed the meaning of the song from
Bandiera Rossa The Red Flag
la trionfera will triumph
evviva il communismo long live Communism
e la liberta and our liberty
Bandiera nera (o Camicia nera) Black flag (or Blackshirt)
color di morte colour of death
sara piu forte will be stronger
trionfera and will triumph
The refrain had already been adapted by the Arditi*:
'Avanti ardito Forward.ardito
tuona il cannone let the cannon thunder
rivoluzione rivoluzione revolution, revolution
Avanti ardito Forward ardito
snuda il pugnale Draw your dagger
al Viminale al Viminale36 To the Viminale, to the Viminalef
* Arditi - paramilitaries' post in the First World War.
f The hill on which Parliament stands.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 81

So the struggle between the opposing forces was openly proclaimed; the world
of music was invaded to the accompaniment of cudgel blows. Gravelli
reminds us that its importance cannot be underestimated, since - 'songs pass
the spirit of a tradition on to future generations'. Generally, the usual practice
of acquiring and copyrighting songs continued as before, but they were
dedicated to the 'Fatherland' or to 'the Fascist Revolution',37 irrespective of
their original intention.
As far as working-class circles in Turin were concerned, there are many
signs of struggle over this very heritage, sometimes involving protagonists
who were too young to know the full meaning of the family and community
tradition. Arturo Gunetti (born in Turin 1916) said:
When I was about 10,1 went along Via San Secondo, I was on my way to see my aunt
who lived at number 8 and that's right, it would have been the mum of the cousin we
talked about only today. I dropped in there and then our 'olden' (my father, I mean)
more or less sang to the tune of the French Marseillaise, but he sang in Italian though:
Peace, peace to the poor man's hovel,
dynamite for the palaces and churches,
we'll destroy the hated bourgeois
tra la la la la ...
I sang that but I didn't sing, I whistled it, I whistled it, the Marseillaise at the corner of
Corso Stati Uniti, there was a Fascist at the corner, a militia man with a rifle, because,
at that time, there was one on every corner, wasn't there? He says to me: 'Hey you,' he
says to me: 'Come here. What are you whistling?' 'I'm whistling the Marseillaise.' And
he says to me 'You French or Italian?' 'Oh, I'm Italian.' 'Then remember one thing,
this time I'll let it pass, but remember that here in Italy you whistle the Giovinezza and
not the Marseillaise'. And I pedalled frantically away cos ... 'Thanks for telling me
...' and pedalled frantically away.
For adults as well as the Fascist authorities were aware that the unthinking
nature of habit meant that a slight distraction was enough to make a slip:
[In April 1939, Oreste Rossi, born 16.6.1908, in Casale Monferrato, cabinet-maker]
an employee at Fiat's Rolling Stock Works, was heard whistling the anthem Bandiera
Rossa. Called back by his work-team leader, he stated that he had not intended to
commit any subversive act, being a committed Fascist. He was a member of the PNF
from 1927 to 1930 when he failed to renew his membership. He turns out to be of good
moral character and so far he has done nothing to draw attention to himself. For nearly
three years he has been in the care of a specialist for contagious diseases and often
suffers from dizziness. Considering his good conduct so far, and finding his excuse
plausible, I would propose that he only be severely reprimanded after a few days under
The memory of what such behaviour meant is often less ambiguous, as is the
case when conflicts of everyday life confirm the value of opposition:
[In October 1939, Lidia Casaro in Gaia (born Turin 1897] a worker at a metal retrieval
plant was denounced by her colleague, Reali, a member of the Fascist Women's
organisation, because at work] while the worker Casamassima sang Giovinezza, Gaia
had sung Bandiera Rossa to get at her.
82 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

Casamassima confirmed the accusation, declaring, however, that not she, but
another worker had sung the Giovinezza and that Gaia had sung the Bandiera Rossa
beneath her breath to get at her. Both Reali and Casamassima admitted having
quarrelled with Gaia over work.39
Another successful parody was that of the 'Official Anthem of Young
Fascists', the second line of which is: 'Duce, Duce, show us the man not ready
to die.' 40 It was reported that one Luigi Piovano, a labourer, was found drunk
running along Corso Margherita 'on the night of 31 May 1941' singing to the
tune of the Anthem:
Duce, Duce, you make me suffer
Duce, Duce, you make me die
Then, every other line, he added the irreverent refrain: 'Bastard King,
Bastard Duce, thanks to you we're doing badly'. The police report continued:
'Further investigations showed that Piovano, married with two children, both
members of the regime's youth organisation, had done nothing to draw attention to
himself up till now, and committed no previous offences whatsoever. He was not a
member of the Party. He did military service in the Great War and was decorated with
a military cross. That very same day, he had cashed his pay packet and lost all
self-control by drinking himself silly and then ended up committing the above-
mentioned very serious offences.41
Apart from the direct attacks, there are widespread allusions, puns and
hidden meanings that the repression encouraged people to be on the look-out
for, keeping eyes and ears wide open. We have already seen the use of allusion
in the song Bel uselin del bosc where the freedom of marriage was replaced by
reference to political freedom, (chapter 1, section 5).
What is even more interesting is the use, for the purpose of protest, of the
Piedmontese song Maria Gioana, a well-known, Classic tavern song, sung late
at night by bands of drunks. 42 Listen to Renzo Anselmo's (born in Turin in
1912) story that refers to the early 1930s:
That was the time of military preparations and Mussolini had set... the Fascio had set
up cadet training and forced all young people into military service, starting from my
age group, about 20 years old that was 1931-2. They began assembling all the young
people of that age in what used to be the stadium in Corso Castelfidardo.
There was an air of discontent among the young people who were fed up at
being deprived of their Sunday free time, and forced to wait for hours:
It's rather absurd to say it, but we did it without any leader, there wasn't anyone
leading us, and it was on our initiative. We began to rehearse the song 'Maria Gioana,
was on the doorstep ... if you didn't drink so much wine, your hangover would pass',
and we had a run through, starting from the line where I was standing and it gradually
spread, but there were 16,000-17,000 of us young people, we were by no means ...,
gradually it spread almost as if there was a choir-master who was conducting the
singing, a rehearsal like that... And then we laughed and joked about it and a whisper
went around: 'When he arrives, we'll chant this ...' and in fact he arrived and went up
on to the platform there ... and as he was being introduced, there was the compere,
who said 'Begin', and we began to sing: 'Maria Gioana, if you didn't drink so much
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 83

wine, your hangover would pass' and we repeated it more than once. And then the
insults and shouts, the 'Long lives!' started up and then what happened was, we said to
ourselves: 'Enough is enough, we've told you what we think, we're not even going to give
you a salute and we're leaving'... and we all left the stadium together. The militia at the
gates still had their bayonettes fixed, we pushed through the soldiers and motorbikes,
tore down the gates and scarpered, leaving them standing there, and that was that. 43

In this episode, the song is derisive: its slow, melancholy drone, intersper-
sed with momentary improvisation, in stark contrast to the booming tone of
official speeches. The comic effect also derives from the Piedmontese dialect
which serves, in this instance, to create unison in the young people's rebellion.
It does not seem, however, that the episode can be seen as an affirmation of
local identity in opposition to the national identity championed and imposed
by the Fascist regime.
It is true that the regime did everything to cover up the deep cultural differ-
ences between the regions. Yet, over the question of dialect it was wildly incon-
sistent. Under Minister Gentile in Mussolini's first cabinet, the curriculum of
primary education, drawn up by G. Lombardo Radice, aimed to give equal
importance, with great literature, to the popular tradition as a foundation of
culture. The curricula, drawn up in 1934 by Minister De Vecchi di Val Cismon,
eliminated all reference to dialect. However, the anti-dialect position that the
regime had begun to assume since 1926 gave rise to more subdued and less
aggressive campaigns than those against words offoreign origin.44 Even in June
1936, Badoglio could come out of the House of Lictoria (the Fascist party
headquarters) in Turin to face the crowd packed into the Piazza Carolo Alberto
and shout out loud in Piedmontese 'Turinese! If tomorrow we were needed
again, we would be ready once more'. 'Strong manly words' which, according
to the reporter, expressed the 'tough spirit of a man from Monferrato'. The
crowd responded to these words with 'shouts and delirious applause'. 45 Only in
the late 1930s did the hostility towards dialect become more pronounced, as
was clearly shown in the directives to the Press from the Ministry of Education
telling them not to bother with publications of poets writing in dialect (25 July
1938), nor with plays in dialect and dialects in general (1941 and 1942).46
It can be argued on this basis that the episode of the singing of Maria Gioana
was not so much an explicit claim to their right to speak dialect, as simply a
case of using it to outwit the authorities, as part of the struggle for freedom of
expression. It is interesting that this involved young people, indicating a
certain persistence of local traditions and forms of expression, even being
adapted to suit tastes which veered from the student rag to anti-fascism as a
way of life. (It is worth remembering the predominance of students among
those doing cadet training.)
The habit of adapting popular songs to express feelings about hunger
and misery grew with the Second World War, songs with strong undertones of
irony about what the future offered. These songs spread rapidly because they
were well-known and had catchy tunes. The following version of Piedmontesina
84 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

bella ('Beautiful Piedmontese girl') came from a corset-maker whose younger

sister, a pupil in the fifth year of junior school, had copied it down and been
caught with the 'defeatist' song at school, while passing it on to a friend to
Addio bel pane dorato [Goodbye well-cooked
Salame affettato bread / Goodbye sliced
Vi debbo lasciar salami / I must leave
Ora che son tessera to you now / that I've
Abbiamo finito cosi di mangiar joined the Party / We've
La gioventu non sta piu su stopped eating like
Si sente quel certo languor that / Youth's no longer
A Torino si vive d'amor on its feet / We feel a
Non vi potro scordare certain languor / In
O pagnottine belle Turin you live on love /
Or guardiam le stelle I couldn't forget you / O
Che stan lassu brillar beautiful loaves / Now
Vi sono le patate piantate we look at the stars /
Al Valentino ci manca pure il That are up there
vino shining / There are the
Come faremo cantar.47 potatoes, planted in the
ground / At Valentine
Park there isn't even
wine / How will we
manage to sing?]
This method of passing on notes, from brothers and sisters of different ages to
school-friends, as in children's games, must have been fairly effective and
difficult to stop. (The corset-maker had actually claimed that she had found
the sheet of paper in the street, by chance.) It was also used by some workers
of the INCET plant (National Electric Cables Industry) where in June 1940
the manual labourer, Garino, had sung and then also dictated a satirical song
in Piedmontese dialect to another worker, Agostino Cortissone. Part of the
first stanza had been revised in the following way:
Viva il Duce - Viva il Re Long live the Duce,
a sun cui de le sansiun long live the King / they
a sun cui ca Than butane are the ones who
la tessera in s'ul sucher e brought about the
'1 cafe sanctions* / they are the
a Than lassane le patate ones who put / rationing
a Than piane le cancellate on sugar and coffee /
e i pareuil e la ramine . . . They've left us just
potatoes / and they've
taken away the gates, /
the copper pots and
pans. 48
*The sanctions were provoked by the Ethopian War and imposed by the League of Nations as a
form of retaliation against Italy. They entailed financial and commercial restrictions on trade
with Italy and lasted from November 1935 to July 1936.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 85

The song sheet had begun to circulate amongst the workers 'at Garino's
instigation' even though the first worker, to whom it had been passed, had not
been able to read it because he was illiterate.
By their very nature, the sources used so far (personal memories and police
records) above all highlight the elements of conflict and protest in the field of
song. One only finds the odd hint in the spontaneous recollections of songs,
suggesting complicity with the regime. Marta, for example, evokes memories
of the wars in Africa through songs:
1911 is the year they sang that song 'Tripoli, beautiful sunshine of love, come soon.' I
don't remember any more of it. After that there was Faccetta nera ('Little black face') the
one from Eritrea, the one about the 'negus' which went:
Negus neghesti preparati la Negus, niggie you'd
fossa che Mussolini ti rompera better dig your grave
le ossa 'Cos Mussolini will
break your bones
Nice heh? They sang it when we were young, I was 35 years old in 1936.49
Only the exceptional has stuck in memory, in the same way as only violations
of the law were taken into account by the police.

5 Laughter
We have seen cases of transpositions, travesties and changes of sound and
meaning, which signal the profound symbiosis between laughter and Fascism.
The histories have also repeatedly alluded to this without, however, going into
it further. Salvatorelli and Mira have recalled that after 1935 Mussolini
himself, who was previously spared in the numerous satirical jokes which
circulated in the country, was made into afigureof fun. But they too quickly
assume that it was a sign of disaffection and opposition 'to the increasingly
discredited policies of the regime'.50 On the other hand, Tannenbaum has
seen the stories that were widespread during the Fascist regime as 'safety
valves for venting secret resentments' and 'substitutes for protest'. By so doing
he has only grasped one side of the laughter - its function as a symbolic
compensation for impotence - which he regards as a traditional need of the
Italian people that could not have given Mussolini any real cause for
concern.51 So either too much or too little importance is attributed to humour
in these interpretations. It is either prematurely assigned a political status, or
stripped of one of its key characteristics, namely, ambivalence.
A range of disciplines outside of history offer more subtle, though disturb-
ing insights. Literary works (in their very forms) portray the grotesque and
absurd features of the regime and its regimented masses,52 while auto-
biographical reflections highlight the subjective determinants of the relations
of power. For Sebastiano Satta, Fascism 'was greeted with universal laugh-
ter!' 'Not only at the beginning, but throughout the course of its tumultuous
86 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
career until its culmination in open war, Fascism was accompanied, and
almost defined by, a trail of ridicule which, even in its most tragic moments,
was a source of delight for the Italian people.' 53
All the analysts are agreed on one fact: that under Fascism, people laughed
a great deal at Fascism itself, as indeed people do under every dictatorship.
Furthermore, one can detect, in the absence of freedom of expression, an
increased propensity to grasp double meanings. One need only scan the
newspapers of the Fascist period to note the recurrence of so-called puns -
plainly silly and almost meaningless remarks which suggest that the general
repression had turned everything into a laughing matter. In accordance with
Freud's thesis on the roots of laughter in compromise - its role, that is, as a
permitted form of temporary release from the social norms - the excessive care
needed every day to avoid getting into trouble with an authoritarian regime,
made people far more susceptible to laughter. 54 The need to find relief from
the mental strain of exercising self-control found an outlet in the merest of
pretexts and a simple play on words was enough to provoke an outburst of
This situation encouraged the spread of jokes under the Fascist regime.
One possible reason for the weakness of analyses of the relationship between
laughter and Fascism is that laughter has been treated as, and reduced to, an
innocuous stereotype. In fact it suffered from the 'defect' of being tolerated by
the regime most of the time. Jokes are rarely recorded in the police files, which
have virtually nothing on jokes told in working-class areas. The owner of the
bar Mulassano di Torino was arrested in February 1941 for telling the
hairdresser an offensive pun about the head of government. ('Do you know the
difference between the Duce and the sun?' - 'There isn't any because both
give out too much heat.') He had declared to the Group Captain of the militia:
'There was no need to dramatise because everybody told jokes like this and so
it shouldn't be considered a serious fault if he had repeated one'. 55
However, to underestimate jokes is to make the mistake of ignoring the way
they interact with other forms of laughter and the events of everyday life. The
interplay is plain to see where it is possible to compare written and oral
sources. We can take as our starting point a real event which happened to
Decimo Baglione (born Savigliano 1902) carpenter, on 10 June 1940, the day
of the declaration of war:
On the afternoon of the 10th, the militia man of the First Legion, Davide Operto, heard
someone say the word 'bastard' during a radio broadcast of the Duce's speech which
was relayed over the loudspeakers in the vicinity of the tuberit factory in 41, Via Guido
Reni. Thinking the insult was directed at the Duce, the militia men proceeded to arrest
the stranger. Interrogated at the police station, Baglione admitted having said the
word 'bastard', asserting that he was referring to himself because, being an ex-offender
under police surveillance, he would not have the opportunity of signing up and being
socially accepted again.56
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 87

Here we have a relatively simple type of transposition - the insult goes back
and forth, rebounding from the Duce to the ex-offender, creating a standard
comic situation. The characters are swapped, and so the roles are reversed to
comic effect. The same device of mirror inversion is found, in disguised form,
in the oral tradition. Let us look at a joke, recalled by Renzo Anselmo:
At a certain stage of the war, when you passed the Suez canal all ships used to pay in
gold. Then, Mussolini began to clean up the Social Insurance system and began to
withdraw silver from circulation, because it was worth a lot, and all to carry out his
boasts, he withdrew the coins and you had to take them to the bank - it's a joke isn't it,
but it's the truth, someone had 7 or 8 or 10 of them - of those 10 lire and 5 lire pieces,
and he went to the bank and the cashier took them and banged them on the marble
counter making a 'clang, clang, clonk, clang, clang', and the one that went 'clonk' he
gave back and said 'This is false'. And then he paid him for the good ones and gave him
back the counterfeit and he left. At that time, at every building and bank, there was a
militiaman with a gun over his shoulder and a bayonet mounted, and he had this 10
lire piece. 'Bastard be damned! Damn crook, they're real bastards, what a bastard of a
government' and went by this militiaman, and the militiaman said: 'What are you
saying?' - 'What a bastard of a government.' - 'Come with me.' 'Why?' - 'You said,
what a bastard of a government.' - 'Yes, but I've got it in for the English.' - 'Oh, well!
Get along with you, then.' He'd gone a 100 yards when the militiaman thought again,
ran after him, stopped him 'Come with me.' - 'But I've already told you ...' 'No, no -
look here there is only one bastard of a government. Come with me ...' Get it!?
The circular argument goes round and round, free from the constraints of
reality, and returns to its starting point. In this way the climate of suspicion,
the hardship, the stupidity of the militia and the illusion of the protagonist's
cunning are all sent up in one go. Nonetheless, insights are given into the real
If the example demonstrates that the joke often related to other more
spontaneous forms of laughter, deriving from the ups and downs of everyday
life, it is to these, above all, that it directs our attention. Wit, in the strict sense
of the word, is humour that is improvised, and takes you by surprise, as
against the joke whose formal elements are in some way familiar and
reassuring. The joke, in effect, claims to be no more than a minor infringement
of the rules in a given setting: one is warned in advance when it will start and
finish and it ends by restoring a normality in the symbolic sphere which has
only been marginally disturbed. The momentary transgression can be
repeated by the joke being retold, but it does not have the same disconcerting
effect as wit. With wit, one is taken aback for a fraction of a second, during
which time the whole structure of the world is shaken up, since our knowledge
of the world is linguistic - in the broad semiotic sense. One laughs an instant
later, out of relief that the logic of linguistic order has been restored, and yet,
as a result, the experience of the violation is all the more acute. 57
Let us listen to an example by Giovanni Dogliero (born Turin in 1922),
about his father, Mario, who was a worker at Fiat in 1933. He was frowned
88 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

upon by management for his Socialist lapses and his scarce effort to conceal
his anti-fascist sentiments:
By chance, the Fiat choir had to go to Rome for a concert, right? And so my father's
friends say to him: 'Look, Ilario, you'll see it's a good idea' this is his friend speaking
'Join the choir, come and sing and maybe .. .'because they saw that he was in for
trouble for what he'd done, that's why, it was at the height of the Fascist period, right?
And, in fact, he joined the choir, and then they sent him to Rome. Listen, he had two
months to learn the whole score for the Apostles Supper to sing in Rome . . . and then
. . . ah, if I think about that! When Mario told this story! [Laughter] By the way, it was
at the time they put on the exhibition of the Revolution in Rome, you see; the Fascist
one, when they showed you what happened to the Fascist martyrs, one thing and
another, all the epic deeds, just as if it were now, let's say, from the Liberation to the
present day, no? And then at the end there was something like . . . a sort of... let's say
. . . a sort of Pantheon, there were all the names, weren't there? and then every time the
lamp was lit that illuminated the name of a fallen Fascist, they played the anthem
Giovinezza very softly and Presente, Presente, Presente. Well, my father, who in the
meanwhile, was going round, it was then they had published all Mussolini's
unpublished letters, well, he says that he stood there with his hands behind him - Is
Mario still there? He tells them this even now when he goes to the club - and he went
round like this and then a militiaman came up behind him and said - 'What are you
looking for?' And he replies in Piedmontese: 'I'm looking.' 'But what for?' And he
replies again in Piedmontese: 'I'm looking.' You see what's happening? So, in the end,
this fellow got fed up . . . But Mario then says: 'I'm looking for the salary he gets now.'
[Mussolini's Trans.] Then they start tailing him. You should hear him tell it!... 'I got
out of there with my hair standing on end . . . ' It's really something to hear him telling
the story. Mario still tells it now when he goes to the club; 'I'm having a good look! I'm
looking for something!'
One can deduce from this story the effect of what Freud called the functioning
wit. Wit works here in the classic way, through condensation and dis-
placement, bringing together two different types of 'unheard of* material:
Mussolini's letters and his salary, which can be seen as doubly 'unheard of -
it had never been published and because it was such a remarkable sum, the
like of which had never been seen before. The humour struck at the Achilles
heel of the regime: the gap between the claims to efficiency and moral
uprightness, and the actual wealth accumulated by Fascists in positions of
power. Furthermore, exposure through wit is founded on a political attitude
common to Dogliero's father and his anti-fascist and Socialist companions at
the club. By momentarily conjuring up this world, in the midst of the
grandeur of the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, Dogliero prizes open a
chink in the symbolic armour of the regime. For this reason his friends will
continue to tell the anecdote and take pride in it as an affirmation of their
identity. Freud's observation: 'A novel and witty remark is almost an event of
universal interest, and passes from mouth to mouth like news of the latest
victory',58 takes on its full significance in such a case. We can add that even if
he had made up the whole story merely the fact that he could have invented
* Inedito: in the sense of unprecedented, and unpublished.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 89

this anecdote would suggest that old Dogliero was a man who could visualise
a world of freedom and dignity.
For this reason, it is probably easier to come across witty remarks than
jokes in oral accounts, although both are characterised by topicality and rapid
obsolescence. The former can become part of tradition, passed on from father
to son, and not just recalled among friends of the same club, precisely because
they are bound up with colloquial language and restore its down-to-earth
quality in place of the stereotypes imposed on everyday speech. The same is
true of an anecdote recounted by Giovanni Steffanino (born in Turin in 1906)
in the course of a dialogue with his brother, evoking the past:
I had a friend, it's true, no, it isn't a joke, at (Fiat) Lingotto - He was called Giacu
Beltramin. One day there was a curfew at Lingotto, bombing, you didn't go anymore,
you always stayed near to home, to shoot off to the shelters, here and there. And that
day was a Saturday. 'Hello Giacu' - we found him there reading the paper ... 'How
are you? How are you Giacu, what yer gotta say to us?' He said nothing. 'Well Giacu
how ar'yer?' (in dialect) 'Say nuffin' no more 'cos every time say somefin' they send for
me from the club.* Eh!'
'What are you saying?' - He goes 'Oh I'm saying nothing more because every time I
say something they send for me, from the club!'
Giacu makes people laugh because of his literalness; by taking the imposed
silence completely at face value, Giacu takes it to ludicrous extremes because
he does not even answer a polite question with some innocuous remark. In
this instance, the wit hits home and makes a laughing stock of the regime
because of its ability to be down-to-earth and get through to people by means
of irony. Nonetheless it is a form of humour that ends up reaffirming the
general acceptance of silence.
Similarly the show of wit at the expense of the Exhibition of the Fascist
Revolution reminded us that transgression was a side-effect which could be
seen, in some respects, as useful in maintaining order. However, Dogliero's
anecdote also represents a way of saving face. Running a risk offers, at the very
least, a symbolic space to an identity compromised by accepting a form of
collaboration, such as singing in the Fiat choir during the Fascist celebrations.
When the symbolic space closes up, order is restored as before, though it
should be noted that a real risk was taken in the process. The essence of the
laughter is double-edged: it both symbolically rejects the established order by
taking a real risk, and restores it even in its symbolic forms. Without this
tension between what comes first and what follows, the story is no longer
funny and there is no point in laughing. 59
The duplicity is all the more obvious the simpler the witty remark is: for
example, with the art of the absurd which extends from 'pretending to be
dumb in order to show the stupidity of the other', to the extreme case of the
'wisecrack' or 'innocent remark' that arises when someone completely
Of the local Fascist Party Office.
90 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
disregards the rules. An example is Favole's tale at the beginning of this
chapter, but one finds many others in the testimonies. Sometimes the art of
pretending to be stupid is used as a means of ridiculing the Fascists but more
often the tale does not so much revolve around the episode that causes the
laughter as around the suppression of the joke.
Emilio (an immigrant from the Veneto who left because of Fascist
persecution, and whose autobiographical account emphasises the harshness
of life and work) recounted many episodes of this kind:
Then, because we used to refer to the Duce as 'Cerutti', on another occasion I was with
a group of friends in a tavern and someone came in I didn't know, and I mentioned the
name Cerutti. Because at that time we called the Duce 'Cerutti' as a ... as a name.
Because, well, that person, when he heard, he came up to me and hit me 3 or 4 times
and said: 'If we hear that said again we'll skin you alive!' And I'm not kidding.
It is very often simple self-denigration that is used as a way of denigrating
Fascism, arousing the mildest of laughter at one's own expense.
MARIA ROLLINO (1902) What could you do? Nothing. Look here I knew someone who
was an anti-fascist, who once the war was over immediately joined the Communists.
He was an engineer of German origin, his mum was German. And when he went to
Piazza Vittorio for the march past, he went dressed as a Fascist. He had to go because
he was a council employee, very well-known too - he used to say: 'I'm going to play the
fool a bit', that's what he used to say, and then he stood in the back rows and sneaked
off. But he even went dressed in uniform.
All the possible ingredients are used in this case to give credence to the figure
of the protagonist and, at the same time, to show how absolutely impossible it
was to rebel. Thus laughing at oneself, self-irony, indicated a compromise
between maintaining personal dignity and being conscious of giving in.
It therefore seems feasible to accept the argument that, in itself, the resort to
humour in the testimonies concerning Fascism is an indirect admission of
some form of complicity with the regime. Humour often goes hand-in-hand
with recollections of those aspects of the regime which had been successfully
'normalised' and here bows to the pressure to rectify deviations and conform
to society.60
One of the most interesting representations of a Fascist, a middle-ranking
cadre within the quartiere, who appears in a subject's account as a symbol of his
relations with Fascism.
MARIA GALLO (1917) And we ... you only went to the House of the Fascio, as it was
called, if you needed to for something - like tenancy agreements, stuff like that,
otherwise we never went. And when it was the partisans' moment, it was Carletto who
did an about-turn and changed sides. In those days (the 1930s) he was the boss
because, you see, they were dressed morning, noon and night in the Fascist uniform,
and you could hardly pass by, you know, without giving a military salute. To think he
had a wife, a real idiot - my God! She had a child when she was 456 years old and at
the time this child was 5 or 6 years old and she called out to him: 'Vittorino come and
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 91

shell the beans.' I always remember him sitting down there, aricketywaif of a kid, it
was frightening, 'Vittorino come and shell* the beans!'
And then ignorance, you can't imagine the ignorance, he wasn't a bad person, but
he was one of those bigheads, I don't know, when he had those black trousers on it
seemed that he'd had who knows what! Oh, my God! I told him several times,
especially when my brothers were away, you understand I had my sick dad, you can
imagine just how much I wanted his troubles and pestering on top of my own, and I
always told him: 'Oh leave off- live and let live'. 'But if ye' go to the...' as they used to
say then ... 'you go to the Fascist party office and tell them, you'll see that they'll help
you'. I said: 'What, you want them to help me. First of all, I'm not going asking for
charity, because so long as I've got the strength to work ...' And he, seeing that I
wasn't of the same mind as him ... then when you went by him you had to skirt round,
because, you see, he was believed to be an authority. He was then made warden ... so
he went round to see if it was blacked out enough, whether we had put those
thingamebobs of sand round the house. Of course we had, that was in our interest!
In this testimony the forms and limits of a certain kind of practical acceptance
of Fascism are clearly implied: the norms laid down by the authorities were
observed 'only if you needed something', where the instructions and sugges-
tions coincided with what was 'in our interest'. The examples given are rent
agreements and the safety precautions for war, but the subject also talks about
health insurance for her father, sought via the Fascist union official in the
factory where she worked.
The easy-going character of the story, who acts as mediator in reaching
compromises with the powers-that-be, by remaining calm and unruffled in
the face of refusal, is made into a laughing stock, and presented as an upstart.
This is the classic representation of a Fascist shared by both bourgeois and
proletarian alike. While Carletto sets great store by never taking up extreme
positions, he is depicted as someone who never knew when to stop. So it is no
accident that after the Liberation this character becomes a Communist.
Undoubtedly, in this case, the little Fascist is sent up as a gloating opportunist
and as a pompous snob (embodied above all in the wife who clumsily strives to
speak good Italian). Yet things are sent up from a conservative point of view,
according to which every effort to change seems dubious. So the laughter goes
hand-in-hand with a kind of resignation, where the old foundations of the
religious idea and a hierarchical conception of the world are taken over and
exploited by a new system of power that penetrates right into everyday life.
This is the social function of normalisation which Adorno points to as the
main characteristic of humour in mass industrial societies. Since they have
brought to an apogee one of the tendencies of totalitarian regimes between the
wars, namely, the tendency to manipulate the masses through psychic and
cultural conditioning rather than through physical means, laughter in such
conditions no longer restores integrity to life. It is now only a collective sneer,
*She is trying to speak high Italian but mistakes the word and uses 'shell' to unintended comic
92 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

which makes a ritual of brutality, 'in which the herd forces the dissenter into
This extreme position, though not entirely applicable to Italian society
during the wars, helps, nevertheless, to explain 'the deep underlying reason'
why 'the Italian and European revolution' was accompanied, in Satta's
words, by 'universal laughter'. Different kinds of laughter were interwoven:
first and foremost, the humour of the powerful, or laughter they aroused
behind the backs of their enemies and victims. One only has to think of the
extremely frequent use that Fascism made of caricature, satire and humour at
the expense of its opponents who were reduced to stereotypes. These included
the fat bourgeois, the timorous figure of respectability, the verbose and
quarrelsome yet cowardly Socialist, and the flirtatious lady, doting on clothes
and dogs rather than children, not to speak of the caricature of the Soviet bear
or the stuck-up Briton. And vice versa, the regime was terribly afraid of
ridicule, growing more and more sensitive about the verbal contradictions
which it often stumbled into. 62
However, the jeering at the authorities could not entirely free itself from the
object it sought to send up. Even for those subjected to power, it became
laughter at one's own expense that reinforced the existing order. This was
laughter not just at the fact of being dominated, but at being partially
represented by the authorities and complicit in maintaining them in power.
The echo of laughter in these memories of Fascism reaffirms not only the
antagonism between pragmatic acceptance of daily compromise with the
regime and rebellion at the symbolic level. It also points to an inner tension in
the subjective world between being seduced by those in power and defending
oneself through counter-attack. The attitude adopted alternated between free
expression and connivance. Let us not forget that the interlocutor is a power
pretending to be the voice of the people and this gives the humour its
particular character. Democracies, unlike dictatorships, are not greeted, to
the point of obsession, with universal laughter.
Fascist power was held in awe for the social upheaval it brought about on a
European scale, which led to forms of cultural and social integration of the
masses.63 These processes took place as totalitarian power was being estab-
lished over the whole of public life, in what Ortega y Gasset defined as the
'displacement of the spirit' and Thomas Mann, some years later, as 'char-
acteristic of collective intoxication and physical and spiritual violence'.64
In this light, one can well understand why, according to such authors, 'the
masses' were in power under Mussolini, and also under Stalin, in the form of
'the average man who is found in all social classes'. At an intellectual and
cultural level, it meant distorted versions of equality and universal enjoyment
of civil rights and material well-being that the progress of democracy and
technology had made possible. Thus the emphasis on the rational gave way to
irrationalism in the history of culture, though they had always co-existed in
the bourgeois spirit: from being an enlightened social enterprise of a spiritual
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 93

nature, culture came more and more to mean simply the domination of the
In the context described here, humour is both a symptom of this progressive
regimentation of spiritual life, and a sign of resistance to it. Through memory,
the explicit and self-righteous humour of today projects its own concerns back
on to the implicit and clandestine humour of that time, highlighting the
aspects of resistance and covering up the conformism and submission.

6 The popular comic tradition

With the comic mode we move on from considering the psychological side of
humour and its social function to the actual traditions of popular comic
culture. Many allusions in our sources would remain disconnected and
obscure without reference to the unifying boundaries of this culture. In turn,
the case we are studying throws new light and confers new meanings on the
comic tradition. 66

The lark
'Larking about' plays a major role in popular humour. Numerous cases of
law-breaking undoubtedly belong to this type of activity, although they take
place between adults and at the work-place. Larking about is used to cast a
different light on the regime and to ridicule it, but also as a form of
entertainment, to pass the time, introducing a note of humour into a silent and
suspicious world. The following joke, designed to deride the corruption of
Fascist officials, was preceded by a request, couched in familiar terms,
intended to establish contact and confidentiality. The idea came from Felice
Macco (born in Turin in 1902), a grinder in Fiat Grandi Motori, who was
denounced by a workmate to the Political Section of the First Legion in March
1940. According to the latter, Macco:
after asking 'whether or not he were a blackie' (i.e. a Fascist), hearing the negative
reply, immediately voiced ideas opposed to Fascism, complaining that the regime did
not do the right things and that the population was by now fed up.
[...] On the 14th of February, he had shown him a leaflet, written by him in pencil,
explaining in an ironic tone that he wanted to pen a subscription for the new Federal
Secretary who had a large appetite, going by the experience of his predecessor who had
already made a packet [The informer was only able to retrieve a few scraps of the
leaflet that Macco had torn up and thrown in a vat but they were accurately pieced
together again to make up the wording for the subscription-cum-practical joke:]
'F... charitable purposes ... to our new much loved Federal Secretary ... he will
know how to defend our interests in the future as did our dear and much loved
Gazzotti. Previous subscription 1,000 lire.'67
The real essence of larking about, in contrast to political satire, lies in a sense
of disposition as is evident in the case that follows, an example of the theatrical
power of histrionic gestures.
94 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

[In June 1937] towards midnight, the squad leader of the militia, Mario Corciarino,
noticed a person in an intoxicated state in Via S. Francesco d'Assisi who said in front of
other people: 'What's the Roman Empire?' He blew on the palm of his hand and
exclaimed: 'That's all it is! - Long live justice and liberty.'*
He was the blacksmith Pietro Marietta (born in Turin in 1887) 'known for
some time to the Police for professing Socialist ideas', 'devoted to drink and
with little love for work', who resided in 'lodgings of the lowest order'. His
assertion that he did not want to associate with the well-known, anti-fascist
organisation was not taken seriously and the blacksmith was sent into internal
exile under police surveillance.68 Few are the gestures like his which seem to
be made for the piazza: for a moment the blacksmith recreated a fairground
scene - imitating the juggler and clown. The image conjures up the figure who
laughs at the relative nature of even the mightiest and most awe-inspiring
power, blown away by the boundless philosophic optimism of carnival
Another instance of life in the piazza is mock fortune-telling. This involves
jokingly forecasting the future through a profane vision of history, such as the
following acrostic brings to mind:
Morirai you will die
Ucciso killed
Seconda second
Settimana week
Ottobre October
Liberando liberating
Intera entire
Nazione nation
Italiana of Italy
This writing was found in August 1938, in the Lancia factory, carved with a
nail on the wall of a toilet in the engine shop, 69 and reappeared at the Villa
Perosa in November of the same year. The message in these jokes follows the
oral tradition and that of wall graffiti, leaflets and old posters that we have
come across many times in the streets, bars and factories. At Villa Perosa, the
worker Luigi Valle 'had shown a note to many workers on which was written'
the acrostic.
Sent to the Police-station for questioning, he declared that about two months before,
he went to the cafe 'Vittorio Veneto' in Corso Vittorio, he had heard two or three
strangers, who were sitting at a nearby table, tell a silly story that went as follows: One
day Mussolini went to a palmist to have his fortune told. The palmist made him write
down his name in Japanese and then added other letters, forming the words just
referred to ... Valle repeated the story as a stupid boast to his fellow workers without
thinking about the gravity of the matter.
He turns out to be of good moral character and had, before the matter in question,

* Giustizia e liberta (Justice and Liberty) was the name of the democratic republican, anti-fascist
movement, founded by the Rosselli brothers, Salvemini, Gobetti, Carlo Levi and others in 1929.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 95
given no grounds for suspicion of a political nature. He joined the Fascio after
membership of the youth organisation.70
This little game revived the tradition of joke fortune-telling which parodied
the future by prophecy based on a puzzle.
The exaggeration of the joke, which was in stark contrast to its political
intent, gives credence to the hypothesis that we are not dealing here with
anti-fascist dissent but with a cultural reaction to standardisation, sparked off
even in people known for their lack of political commitment living in an
utterly authoritarian environment. This was a case of spontaneous reaction
rather than resistance because it aimed to create a free space, while simultane-
ously reproducing 'the official puerility' attached to authoritarian and
totalitarian regimes at that time.71


The most obvious language offence that crops up again and again in the police
records is the reference to 'the baseness' of the regime and its representatives.
Reference is made to the lower parts of the body and draws on the whole range
of obscene expressions. Here is a typical example of graffiti found in the
Michelin plant on 7 November 1934:
The following caption, written in italics in copying pencil, was found, to be precise, on
the inside of the latrine: 'Whoever shouts Long live Mussolini is an assassin and traitor
to youth!' In the same part but lower down, there was a drawing of a male organ with
the writing 'For Mussolini' underneath. There was a sketch of a machine gun with the
words 'For the Duce' next to this. There was still more writing beneath this which was
also done in copying pencil, which said: 'Shit on the Duce'. Other writings in chalk on
the doors of the latrines had been wiped off or were illegible.72
In Fascist Italy, police surveillance encouraged a close relationship to be
established between the insults to Fascism and 'places of decency' as public
conveniences were called in the reports. 73 Toilets of all sorts became the object
of constant attention and ritual control, involving searching for, and eradicat-
ing, offensive remarks. They, therefore, became seed-beds of crime where
plots were hatched and accusations levelled. In their meticulous records of
graffiti and bad language, the police provide ample evidence of a very old
repertoire of images brought back to life for use against Fascism. We see many
expressions reappear, which derive from the iconography of the popular
comic tradition, even if in this context they often, if not always, have lost their
range of meaning. References to bodily excretions of all sorts stand out among
the insults, in which taboo words are freely used. 74
Apart from innumerable references to all kinds of excretions, other themes
from popular comic culture also abound, such as the body being chopped up
and consumed:
On the 3 September 1939, the company driver for Olivetti, Pietro Grassino (born at
Rivarossa Canavese in 1893) came to blows with a pedestrian for no real reason. A
96 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

militia man dressed in civilian clothes, Antonio Saglia, intervened to settle the dispute
once he had introduced himself. He reprimanded Grassino who appeared in an evident
state of intoxication. The latter replied: 'I say up yours to your uniform I say up yours
to Italy which has never given me a crumb I'd eat the Italians one by one, I'm a red
and no-one can make me turn black.'75
The parallel emerges clearly here with a symbolic system, in which the body
represents the social body and the individual bodies become blurred and
indistinguishable from one another. We have entered the arena of metaphor,
of cursing and swearing, of the age-old tradition in which the body is
perpetually destroyed and regenerated.
At this level the working class shared the culture of the social strata who
were pulled both ways, between it and the sub-proletariat:
[To this latter group a certain Borlengo belonged (who had previously been convicted
of theft, robbery, assault on police officers and, in 1928, of desertion). He found out
that a co-tenant who was a member of PNF, had testified that Borlengo's wife was
betraying him. What Borlengo shouted as he beat up his co-tenant brought together a
whole range of symbolic and cultural references:]
You are a Fascist, a pimp like all the rest who live on the backs of the next man, don't
you realise that I'm capable of putting on a red shirt, of tearing out your heart and
carrying it round in my hand, without giving a damn for the Fascio or any one in it.76
It is important that this, and similar phrases, are understood in symbolic
terms, as invoking a dream of triumphing over Fascism whose only real force
lay in a cruel, acid humour. The reference to the age-old tradition of the
grotesque is vital to understanding this. Despite the private and ordinary,
rather than cosmic, nature of these curses, we must recognise that they retain
a certain ambivalence.77 The obscenity creates a surprise element, it puts the
authoritarian presumption of tone and gesture in proper perspective and
momentarily sweeps away the pretensions of the powerful. Elements of
popular comic culture were brought back to life owing to the specific
repressive methods of Mussolini's dictatorship: constant reference to the body
and the 'baser parts' was a response to a series of parallels drawn by Fascism
itself in its aim to clean up (bonijicare) the country.

7 Clean-up (boniGca) and vendetta

Do you remember anything about the Fascist period itself?
RITA NANO Something because I ..., I don't know . . . you see we were young, we
went dancing, especially on Sundays, no, and then in the evenings we didn't go o u t . . .
we never went out, by day we worked and we only came and went for that, so, so many
things I didn't see, but one girl, a girl who went dancing at the 'Dresda', who was here
at Lingotto, since she went dancing there she thought, well, she could say what she
wanted there. She got on the tram and exclaimed: 'Oh how these, these Fascists stink!'
And then they made her get off, didn't they, they made her get off, and took her to the
chemists and gave her a glass of oil, castor oil, then they took her to a cafe and made her
drink a cup of very hot coffee till she was forced to do it all over herself, then they said to
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 97

her; 'Now tell us who stinks more, you or us?' Eh, the things they did ... There was also
a person who had red carnations which she was taking ... she was taking to the
cemetery - there well, they took her and put her in a lorry, I don't know where they
wanted to take her, and she was indisposed, I saw her go white, she lost all her ... and
there was one of her superiors who stopped the lorry and went: 'Where are you taking
her?' He saw she was really white and then I don't know what she said to him and he
said something like: 'Let her be, let her go.' They wouldn't have let her go otherwise ...
Oh, what things they did! And when I was passing by there, by the 'Corridoni' [one
of the local Fascist clubs] I was cutting through there, by Via Oneglia. I passed by the
'Corridoni' when I used to go to the Fotocelere that was towards the Valentino, I don't
say every morning, no, but often I heard screaming down below, below that
thingmebob of the 'Corridoni', evidently they were beating someone up really badly,
you could tell from the voices. Once I stopped there in front, didn't I, I stopped and
said, 'Now I'm going to start screaming.' And then I thought: 'But, but who will come
to my defence? Other than them, no, and then I've a child and husband, it is better
I contained myself, eh, I contained myself, but I was really on the point of screaming
out too, wasn't I, of shouting 'Criminals!', of saying something because you couldn't
listen, I really don't know, it tore my heart out to hear those screams, they were really

The three anecdotes chosen by Rita, in reply to the question about Fascism,
refer, as many other testimonies do, to violence. This case, however, concerns
a particular kind of bodily violence, with strong symbolic overtones. The first
episode underlines the realistic aspects of forced role reversal ('Who stinks
now?') violently carried out with castor oil, a very widespread practice of the
period of the supremacy of the squads. Renzo Anselmo recalls:
the least that they did was that they put groups of 50 or 100 at the factory exits, all the
workers came out, those that were picked out and the like - they took them, put a
funnel in their mouths, then with a litre bottle, they poured half a litre of castor oil in to
their mouths. It was essentially a bestial and savage act - things that we've lived
through and seen, so it's even affected our character, at least my character, from then
In the second episode recounted by Rita Nano, many symbolic overtones are
brought together: the red carnations and the cemetery make you think of a
gesture of political homage (perhaps relating to previous massacres) while the
stress on menstruation (naturally not named but almost made explicit by the
deadly pale face) points to the fact that the protagonist was once again a
woman. The horror of the situation is highlighted by the fact that the threats
do not materialise, but it is the combination of a taboo phenomenon - the
condition of a menstruating woman - with an atmosphere of violence, which
generates the disproportionate sense of unease. The third episode that Rita
links to the other two by repeating the exclamation 'Oh but what things they
did!5 in fact took place later. As it turns out from checking the employment
card, it probably refers to December 1930, while the first two episodes go back
to 1921-2. The third anecdote introduces torture as a factor, implied by the
screaming, which conflicts with the symbol of the heart; hearing those
98 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
screams 'tore my heart out5, words which, for all her passivity, capture her
solidarity and loyalty to an ideal.
This condensation of anecdotes is not casual or due solely to individual
experience or psychology. The three episodes underline a loss, linking the
ideas of drainage, dispersal, dissolution, spillage with those of wounds,
openings and lacerations.78 Among the acts of violence inflicted on the body,
that of castor oil is charged with symbolic overtones. Nolte has spoken of the
'pre-bourgeois' nature of Fascist violence in relation to this, noting that: 'the
use of castor oil more than anything else puts man at the mercy of nature in
the lowest sense of the term.' 79 This seems to be too simple an observation
compared to the complexity of the phenomenon. Why did the Fascists resort
to this particular kind of violence and why has it stuck so deeply in the
collective memory? It seems that using castor oil derived, like many other
elements of Fascist ritual, from an example of its use in D'Annunzio's Fiume
expedition. The concoction was sometimes mixed with petrol or iodine and
gave the 'boys in blackshirts' the sensation of conferring 'a bit of the joyful fun
of the Renaissance on the leadweight of modern battle'. 80
The non-lethal nature of such violence, almost like a schoolboy prank, was
certainly one of the aspects which Fascists played on to raise a laugh of
connivance from the judges and police, if not from other intellectuals.
Giovanni Gentile, in a celebrated speech in 1924, had defined the cudgel as a
'persuasive argument'. An acute satire by Calamandrei took its cue from this
epithet. It viewed castor oil as part of the liturgy of expiation, as exorcism that
by the simple transposing from the bodily to the spiritual plane symbolically
purged the political sin. The ritualistic character of the act does not conceal its
barbarity as the 'first step in that terrifying return to the use of torture' that
represented an open breach in the advances of civilisation, once thought to be
A number of other elements must be added to this analysis, which bear out
the symbolic impact of that kind of violence. In the first place it could cause
shame and humiliation through the scatological and sexual inferences of the
acts inflicted (and the humiliation dissuaded the victims from speaking out
about the offence done to their person, thereby favouring the offender).
Secondly the violence referred back, less to a primitive past as Nolte argues, or
a glorious one, invoked by Borgese, than to a system of images still alive in the
popular comic tradition. The reference worked in such a way as to destroy the
deep gulf between symbol and reality (that characterised the laughter of
carnival) through the perverse truthfulness of its claims.
It is not so much a question of regression to the past, as a short-circuit
between the imaginary and the real, between the comic tradition and its cruel
acting out in practice. On the one hand the violent enactment of a stock joke of
comic narrative (excessive defecation) disrupted, or at least offended, the
symbolic order by turning it into reality, albeit in a distorted way. On the
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 99

other hand, it was the comic tradition itself that allowed the victims not only
to be hurt but also to be sent up. The story, especially if it was hurriedly
recalled without all the details of horror and humiliation, provoked laughter
at the victim's expense, not horror. The macabre joke that Giuseppe Visca
(born in Villafranca, Piedmont in 1898) told is the proof of this:
When they gave you castor oil - you will have heard of this. First, they gave you castor
oil - well, there were five or six of us, they were coming down the hill, I saw several of
them and said: 'Give them the oil!' Then, we showed them wine in place of the oil so
they change colour, they became normal, a glass of wine and down it went ... We
played these tricks for as long as possible, fortunately none of them saw us, otherwise
they'd have given us the oil. Oh yes we played dirty tricks, eh!
Evidently the success of the vicious trick relied on very old forms of mockery
drawn from comedy and the oral tradition that were made use of not just by
the authorities. The laugh aroused in this way greatly resembles the smirk,
which Adorno has analysed, of those who side with the victors.
Finally there is a third point. The ritual of castor oil drew on the parallel
between the social and physical body. If the human body particularly lent
itself to symbolising the social system (so that control over it could be taken as
an expression of social control), this was possible because the symbolic codes
relating to the two bodies had a significant bearing on each other. 82 By
exploiting a forbidden bodily function, Fascist violence revitalised an age-old
ritual, namely, inciting disorder to constitute a new order, leaving a deep
impression through the physical association of the social body with the
individual human body.83
It has been observed that of the dual symbols of squadrism,* the cudgel and
castor oil, the first probably triumphed in Fascist symbolism because the
'faecal images' that the second produced came to be incompatible with the
respectability that the regime wanted to establish.84 However, it was impor-
tant that these images which combined disorder, lack of restraint and riotous
gaiety remained in the background. Indeed, it was better to put them out of
sight so that they remained all the more deeply embedded in the pre-
conscious. They were, however, constantly referred to by the regime as an
ever-present threat in its insistence on clean-up (bonifica) in many fields that
perpetuated the original idea of purging the country.
Underlying all this symbolism is the idea of a society as a sick organism in
need of healing, an idea not exclusive to Fascism but one which certainly
became a constant theme of its propaganda. The recurrence of medical and
anatomical metaphors in Mussolini's oratory (already in his Socialist period,
the clerics were black microbes as lethal to the human species as tuberculosis
germs) 85 has been noted. The speech on Ascension Day 1926 is a classic
* Squadrismo characterised an earlier phase of the Fascist movement when para-military 'squads'
attacked people and property associated with socialist and labour organisations. It sub-
sequently formed an important part of Fascist mythology.
100 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

example: swamps, yellow fever, Socialism and taverns are put side-by-side in
a single stream of diseases and infections.86 But even later, throughout the
1930s, the theme was treated obsessively and from every possible angle. It
appeared in the demographic campaign to purify the race and in the linguistic
campaign. Then the clean-up of the land (bonifica) was comprehensive
because it was not limited to the reclamation of swamp land and to the
regulation of water, reforestation and road construction, but was integrated
with compulsory private improvements, irrigation, rural construction,
ploughing and plantations. Furthermore there was the clean-up of books and
At the end of the 1930s, there was talk of a 'human clean-up' (i.e. of the
'parasites that clog the industrial centres') and the 'wholesale clean-up of the
mentality of workers',87 unifying physical, cultural, demographic concerns in
a single obsession. There emerges a constant preoccupation with dirt and
infection that oscillates between rinding pleasure in excrement and anxiety for
absolute cleanliness. In this climate, people endlessly dwell on the humili-
ations they have endured.
Furthermore, the ritual of castor oil, because it worked through shaming
the victim, called for a counter-ritual, equally symbolic of all the humiliations
suffered or witnessed, designed to wipe them out. It is not strange (given this
complex of elements) that the idea of vendetta, passed on over decades and
even generations, should focus around castor oil. Numerous testimonies bear
this out. An example from oral sources is Fausto (born in 1920) who tells of his
Socialist friend whom the Fascists had forced to drink castor oil:
He had done it in a chamber-pot, he took it, then put it in a bottle, then corked it and
put it in the cellar. He said: 'The day that things change, if he's still alive, I'll make him
drink it.' It came about ... it happened just like that ... He went to get it and said:
'Come and I'll let you drink a good bottle of wine!' Then they took him, uncorked this
bottle and made him drink.
[The wife commented:] 'Yes, but those were things that your parents used to say
because we were only little then.'
Similar stories are recorded in the written memoirs 88 and in the archival
[On December 13, 1941] the labourer Mario Zola acquired a trap in a shop on Via
Vibo. When he was paying, the shopkeeper asked him for 10 cents tax on his income,
and he replied:'I'm fed up to the back teeth with these taxes and laws.' The agent from
the Secret Police, Vito Masselli, who was present in the shop, heard these remarks and
reproached him, saying that the cudgel was what: individuals like him needed. Zola
then replied, 'Soon the cudgels and castor oil that the squadrists dished out to us in
1922 will come in handy for the squadrists themselves. Two Fiat workers who work in
the spares section have saved two bottles of that castor oil that will come in handy for
the squadrists.'89
Vendetta is a recurrent theme in the way the memory of Fascism is
represented, and often appears with strong symbolic connotations. It is linked
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 101

to images of role reversal, of bodily actions (such as being made to eat or

drink) and in the extreme case of Mussolini to the body in effigy or in person.
MARIA GALLO I remember when Fascism fell . . . I remember for sure because we
were evacuated to Fererre, and when we arrived at the Villanova station, we were
going South - and the train was already in, and we arrived to go to work. Then all these
people:... 'Ah, this time they've brought him down! Ah, this time they've brought him
down! Throw away your badge, throw away your badge!' Then we arrived in Turin in
Piazza Carignano and there was a gentleman who had a head of Mussolini on a lead
(laughter) a bust, and he pulled it along like this (laughter) and that head bum, bum,
bum, bum, bum, bum, on the cobbles. Then my brother says to him, 'And where are
you taking him to?' 'I'm taking him to the Po!' (laughter) Ah, I remember it well... I
remember that bronze head there, all shiny, really smooth, with only that lead that he
pulled it along with, it was that heavy . . . 'Where are you taking it?' 'I'm taking it to the
MARIA CONTI CAFASSO Just imagine. I knew a railway worker at the time of the
Piazza Loreto events . . . they took him to Milan, to Piazza Loreto, where they hanged
him. It was my neighbour's uncle: 'Now I'll go and see him, I'll take the train and go to
Milan because I lent him 2 lire to buy shoes.' He was really a . . . rootless man,
Mussolini, really a man . . . how shall I say? They say he never had a penny, and so he
had acquaintances, friends . . . This man, I heard it myself in '45, I heard and saw it
with my own eyes, took the train, went to Milan to tell him - 'I lent you 2 lire, you
never gave it back, now you're here and at least you've paid dearly.' So he got his
LUCIA My brother scarpered to France to get away from the Fascists. He got out of
the country secretly. After 17 years they killed Mussolini, then we sent him the photo of
Mussolini, hanging with his legs in the air . . . Then he came back to visit us.
A reversal that actually took place, like the one in Piazza Loreto, is also
charged with ritual significance, recalling age-old traditions and forms of
symbolic violence.90 The violent rupture in the relationship between the
symbolic order and the real one that accompanied totalitarian attempts to
take over popular symbols set in motion a process of interchange between the
two, which was a source of conflict. On the one hand, the use of words and
symbolic allusions took their cue from real processes; on the other, the events
were overlaid with apparently forgotten meanings derived from the past.

8 The appropriation of red

In both the oral testimonies and the police records, the opposition of red and
black recurs again and again. The testimonies naturally associate the first
colour with the red flag, the symbol of workers' freedom of expression and
association. Luigia Varusco recalls two episodes linked to the ban on May
Day celebrations:
On 1 May, under the Fascists, you couldn't put out the flags anymore, I woke up the
morning of May 1, and there on the top of the Mole Antonelliana* was the red flag
fluttering, eh! Then afterwards, when the Fascists fiddled the elections, from the
* A tall building planned as a synagogue, visible from every part of the city.
102 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

Barriera to the Madonna of Pilone, as far as the eye could see, there were red flags
dotted here, there and everywhere, because it was a real battle of commitment, eh!
But then that night the Fascio got their hands on them, and in the morning everyone
had to take down his red flag and that was that.91
Apart from the famous episode of the red flag on the Mole Antonelliana,
minor violations of the law associated with red can be found in everyday life,
especially as regards dress. Maria Coletto recalls the behaviour of one of her
'fanatical Communist' relatives from Rimini, in the 1930s, to show the stuff he
was made of: 'In the Fascist period, he went round dressed in red. And so off
he went to prison!' There are numerous anecdotes of people beaten up or
reprimanded because they wore a red tie or a red ribbon in their hair.
ARTURO GUNETTI Eh, when I was a kid, my mother had this thing ... you know
when you wear that white collar and tie with the nice bow, no? I had two red ties, I
wore the red tie for May Day, I remember for sure, I was in the second year of primary
school. I got to Via Nizza in a hurry, turned into Via Oneglia and I felt someone get
hold of me here, because in those times the militia were about on May Day, at every
corner, there was a militia-man with a rifle eh ... with a rifle, and he said to me: 'Where
are you going, lad?', 'I'm going to school' and he says: 'How come you have the ... do
you know what day it is today?' How was I to know what May Day was. I said 'May
Day' but May Day as ... it meant so much that they put up posters saying: 'You want
to be healthy? Work on May Day', written on them. I recall that poster: 'You want to
be healthy? Drink Ferrochina Bisleri!' Instead they should have put 'Work on May
Day' - 'May Day'. 'And you put that red thing on, that red tie, on May Day?', he called
it 'that red bow' in Piedmontese. 'My mum put it on for me, why?' (You surely don't
want me to throw it away or something?) 'For the moment, at least this time, you can
go to school, I am here at midday, but don't pass by again with that red tie on,
understand! Tell your mum to change it, to take that tie and throw it away, burn it!'
'O.K.', because I was a kid, I was not yet grown up. 'Mum, throw away the red tie.'
My Mum asked 'Why?' 'Because ... so-and-so happened to me ...' and she thought
about it for a bit and then said 'It's better if you change it.' She then put a white one
on for me. That afternoon I passed by, right under that bloke's nose, passed in front of
him. 'I changed the tie, didn't I!' 'Good lad, good lad!' 'My mum didn't know'. 'Ah, it
doesn't matter! But never put it on again, not the red tie! Do you understand?'
The Fascist attempt to eradicate every trace of red lasted from the era of squad
ascendancy to the 1930s, when red reappeared, often without any subversive
overtones. Sometimes the police were embarrassed in prejudging a situation:
such was the case of the little red flag flying on the Turin-to-Gassino tram in
When the said flag was found in a warehouse, mixed up with other tricolour flags, it
was hoisted 'as a result of deplorable negligence and carelessness' over the tram by the
worker Pietro Girardi (born in Venice in 1894) 'an individual of diminished mental
faculties, incapable of taking up any political position'.
On other occasions, defiance, even if it was only token gestures, became an
explicit feature of this day. On 1 May 1937, it was enough to scatter pieces of
red paper, no bigger than a stamp, in the Vittoria slum quarter to attract the
attention of the police, who have preserved them for posterity in the archives.
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 103

Very often the ease of exhibiting red (a signal which automatically sparked off
shows of solidarity) helped to trap the Fascists in ridiculous misunder-
[On 5 April 1942] at about 20.00 hours, in the 'Muletto' restaurant in Corso Italo
Balbo, No. 194, the messenger, Giovanni Ruggero (born in Turin in 1881) took a red
handkerchief out of his pocket to show his friend Ernesto Polo (decorator, born in
Geneva in 1909) who, in turn, drew out another handkerchief, which was purple with
grey stripes. Shaking his friend's hand, he said to him in Piedmontese dialect 'I'm also
like that.5 The blackshirt, Luigi Scanferlato, who had already overheard the two
speaking in French, and had wondered whether they could be Communists, noticed
their gestures and invited them to follow him to the nearby Commissariat of Public
Order of Borgo Po. He proceeded to arrest them and their comrade Errore Francesco,
son of the late Federico, Bouchard (decorator, born in 1909 in Geneva).
In the inquiry which was carried out, Ruggero declared that the red rag (not a
handkerchief) which he had found, by chance, that very day near the Michelotti canal,
and which must have been an old hat lining, had, by chance, fallen out of his jacket
pocket while he was rummaging for some cigar butt. Polo had made the same gesture
for the same reason, telling Ruggero that he had asked for a smoke because he, too, had
run out. This happened at the same moment that they were saying goodbye, and while
they were shaking hands, Scanferlato intervened.
It turns out from our inquiries that all three were of good moral and political
conduct [this fact and other considerations give plausibility] to the version given by
Ruggero and Polo of their mutual search for cigar and cigarette butts in their
respective pockets! The three detained persons have therefore been released with a
stern warning not to give further cause for concern about their behaviour.92
The ban on red ended up by generalising and emphasising its subversive
meanings that involved both changes in, and continuity with, the history of
the labour movement. The red flag has for a long time, at least since the end of
the 18th century, been a symbol of workers in struggle and often of a new
order. In Italy, red had been the colour of the Garibaldian redshirts and
previously of the Phrygian beret. The Jacobin and working-class tradition
was compounded by influences from the Mazzinians who competed with the
Socialists' red, so that by the middle of the 19th century this colour generally
no longer had one particular political meaning. 93 Furthermore, even older
meanings should be borne in mind, such as the blood sacrifice in the rite of
initiation of a new season or phase. The reference is explicit in the miners'
revolt in Merthyr Tydfil in 1831, when they bathed their flag in calf s blood
before calling for insurrection.94 The reference to spilt blood also recurs, as a
sign of extreme commitment, in the Garibaldian songs: 'Red shirt, ardent
shirt, you bear the imprint of my wound, you are all cut and torn', as the
famous Garibaldian song Redshirt, composed in 1860, goes.
However, red was not the only colour before Fascism which identified the
labour movement. There were numerous colour variations in the banners of
the clubs, leagues and party branches (also designed to escape the repressive
measures of the security forces). The Anarchists were not alone in using black
(their banners sometimes had red borders and inscriptions) but several
104 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

branches of the Communist Party also used it, probably to indicate adhesion
to the intransigent wing of the Communist Party. On the other hand, the red
flag had been used, for example by D'Annunzio at Fiume, in quite a different
way. It was Fascism, initially the Fascist squads, which forced a polarisation
of colours in which red became the principal sign of opposition, and black the
colour of the regime. In the period 1920-2, a so-called war of banners 95 took
place, when the Fascists tore the flags from their political opponents. Later on
it developed into a real-life war of colours which, even though shifted on to a
symbolic plane, could sometimes still be fierce.
Fascism tried to take over black permanently as its symbol, attempting to
outlaw red. In this way, it imposed a division in the field of symbolic colours
that had never been seen before. Red tended to be the colour that swept away
every tendency to moderation and compromise. Black was supposed to
supplant it, being presented as even more radical - a brazen, desperate
radicalism, more existential than political, that was the mark of the Arditi,
then of the squad members. 'Blackshirt or black flag / the colour of death' the
Arditi used to sing, and wore black shirts under their jackets, black fezes with
a little brass skull and cross-bones and black tassel on their shaven heads.
D'Annunzio's Fiume created the opportunity for widespread diffusion of this
symbol, along with others, and blackshirts, badges of black flames and black
scarves were very common there. 96
Since Fascism had taken black as the distinctive feature of its uniform and
insignia, routine control of the colour became as rigid as it was for red. Arturo
Gunetti recalls that his father wore a blackshirt at work because:
it got less dirty, didn't it? By chance, he had black buttons, so when he went out, they
asked him: 'Comrade, do you have a membership card?' My father goes: 'I can tell you
that I'm not a member of any party, I haven't any political convictions'. 'How come
you have black buttons then? Don't you know that black buttons are uniform? You
can't... you must wear them only on national holidays ...' People went on working all
the same, but they went to work in blackshirts, perhaps the Fascists didn't work at all
so as not to make them grubby because there were those big wigs there ... that's how it
was, and he more or less said to them: 'But look, in practice I already wore a black shirt
before' and so on. There were ... there were two of them that didn't want to hear the
reasons, so the petty officer intervened and said: 'Wait a minute, this isn't the one we're
looking for' - you see they were out to nab someone, so then he said: 'You, go home, but
tell your wife to change, make her change the buttons and put white ones on.'
The forced polarisation was especially felt in everyday life, while naturally in
educated circles Fascism did not stop using the nationalistic and patriotic
nuances of red, with its allusion to the fire and blood of the martyrs. Fascism
was, therefore, ambiguous in this field as well and tried to get the best of both
The use of black was a clever expedient, not only as a counterpoint to red,
but also for the multiplicity of historical associations that it could evoke in
relation to the colours traditional to Western Europe. Although this tradition
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 105

can now be compared to the 'ravaged landscape of an abandoned quarry', 97

its symbolic value is not insignificant, and its hidden, deeper meanings may
well have been important. Jane Schneider had highlighted a general distaste
in this tradition for colour and repeated preference for black. Black had its
alternative associations: for the medieval monastic order it was a symbol of
asceticism and egalitarian emancipation of labour and purity; then there was
the black of mourning and death, sign of impurity and expiation and, finally,
in the Spanish and Flanders courts, it represented the autonomous develop-
ment of a European civilisation, freed from the domination of Byzantium and
the Italian cities with their brightly coloured cloths.98 So the manipulation of
the meanings of black by dominant groups left a contradictory and mixed
legacy to which the Fascist use of black was added, exploiting in particular
two layers of meaning: social equality and death.
The association of black with equality, poverty and labour was taken up
when the early Fascist movement donned the black shirt worn by certain
groups of workers in order to create a plebeian and rebellious image. But even
in the mid 1930s, long after the eclipse of the squads, Starace, as secretary of
the PNF, was concerned to maintain the appearance of being opposed to
privilege; in his instructions of May 1934 to the party, he wrote: 'It is
absolutely forbidden to wear a starched collar on a black shirt.' 99
As far as the reference to death is concerned, we have already found it in the
Arditi's songs. The relationship between Fascism and the risk of death invites
comparison with the common equation of Socialism and democracy to life,
which the labour movement willingly reaffirmed (for example, the 'Workers'
anthem' proclaims 'death to the reign of death'). Such an outlook is perfectly
consistent with the self-images projected by our subjects: a naturally vital,
strong, invincible self- a hero who victoriously combats the forces of evil. On
the other hand, it is interesting to recall that the removal of red in the Fascist
period was rather similar in its effects to the ban on it during mourning which,
even in the recent past, required every trace of red, including, for example,
ruby to be eliminated, even if strict mourning was not being observed. Red
became one of the hall-marks of being anti-fascist and was freely associated
with other symbols, such as fire, blood and the heart. In the climate of
repression, it once again became the colour synthesising both democracy and
liberty in the broadest possible sense, without differentiation.
So if Fascism made use of colours by building on previous associations, new
light has been shed on this counterposing of colours by recent research, which
is broader in scope than that concerned solely with the European tradition.
There now seems to be a tendency to define what is variable and what is
constant in the history of colours within a given common heritage. This
contrasts with an absolute cultural relativism which explains the different
associations each colour has acquired solely as a function of the individual
historical situation. It has also been stressed that the difference in human
106 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

susceptibility to various colours should not be ignored. It turns out from many
studies that red and black are primary colours, not in the terms of the
spectrum, but in the cultural sense.100 The interpretations of the anthropolo-
gical evidence suggest a relationship between culture and the organic, that is,
a consciousness of intense physical experiences common to the human
These considerations suggest that colours which shared a similar history
both in the recent and distant past, and lent themselves to a broad range of
possible associations, were highly likely to become a battleground, repre-
senting two competing conceptions of the world. If one compares the banners
of the clubs and societies of the Italian labour movement with those, collected
by Gorman, of the British trade unions, one is struck by the predominance of
pure colours in the former; while they include various mottoes, they are not
covered with figurative compositions as the latter invariably are. They were,
therefore, even more suited to the battle of colours provoked by Fascism.
The contest of colours, which was rooted in everyday life, followed a
different time-scale from that of mainstream politics. The echo of the battle
over red did not die out with Fascism. Even in the 1950s, the red overalls of a
girl, a rank and file political activist in a pottery factory mentioned by
Montaldi, tells us many things about the persistence of that Tear of red5 which
Gianni Bosio has also spoken of. The episode began with the refusal of the
factory to give work overalls to the women workers in the setting section as
well as those in the pressing section. The girl recounted that:
they told me that if I wanted to go into another section they would give me the overalls.
So I replied that they'd have to give them to me, I'd show them that they'd have to give
them to me. I made myself some straight away, all red, a beautiful flaming red, with a
Russian high collar and when I went to work in the section, there was general surprise.
The section foreman kept his eye on me, he watched me all day and the women didn't
have the chance to ask me why I had red overalls on. When there was that affair with
the section foreman who had found me with a newspaper [a political paper], that time
theyfinedme and they called me into the office, they asked me why I was all dressed in
red. In fact I'd always gone into the office in my red overalls and they didn't like it. So
that time in the studio they asked me 'And is it because you like red or is it because you
are a Communist?' I replied: 'Because I like red, because I'm a Communist, because I
wear what colour I like, and because G. doesn't give me overalls and I don't want to
spend money on his account. Why haven't I the right to wear what colour I like?'102
The girl's reply summarises rather better than we could the multiplicity of
meanings that a red outfit could assume in the daily struggle and balance of
forces in the factory.

9 Representations of Mussolini and of the Fascists

It is clear by now that we are dealing with a system of mental representations
relating to Fascism which is divided into a number of layers. As far as
memory goes, one can find both specific parallels in the material drawn from
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 107

the contemporary written sources and characteristics specific to the process of

recollection. Among the former, there is an echo of the age-old images and
expressions drawn from popular comic culture that we have already come
across, especially in the self-representation of women. Fascism is thus recalled
within the same symbolic system that regulates self-representations. We see
the reappearance of the narrative forms of'having always been . . . ' and of the
popular masque character that sends up power; then we have the capable and
constructive worker, along with the metaphor of the heart that remains
faithful despite the apparent acquiescence; in short, there are all the elements
that emphasise the naturalness of being anti-fascist.
We find, among the characteristics of memory, the concentration of
elements from different periods and the reconstruction and reshaping of
events according to hindsight. Anyhow, this mechanism can already be seen
at work in the contemporary sources that record attitudes. (See for example
the last extract from the archival sources on the vendetta using castor oil.)
Naturally the oral sources are also informed by the fact that Fascism came to
an end, and by comparison with the period that came after, and this gives
them a marked teleological tendency.
Among the parallels between the oral sources and the contemporary
sources, the representations of Mussolini and the Fascists are particularly
suggestive. A recurrent representation draws, on the one hand, on the
self-image of the capable worker and, on the other, on the traditional image of
the tramp, which fitted Mussolini for practical reasons (his past as an
unemployed emigrant) and moral reasons (the abandonment of Socialism).
Luigia Varusco, who, as will be recalled, is one of the few women to show signs
of concern for work in the way she presented herself, said:
Since he was Socialist, and they expelled him from Switzerland, sent him away here, to
our trade unions, which were unions of... chemical workers, they told us to go to the
Chamber of Labour,* [they said] that he was a comrade who found himself in a state of
... Not everyone came eh, I was always one of those that went everywhere. I went, they
made speeches there and said a lot of things about him - in fact he had worn-out shoes
and holes in his breeches ... so as to have a collection. We gave a bit of money and then
we went home. And then look at what he got up to! What afinesell-out! Now I regret
giving that bit of money, yes, I regret it.

The contrast between themselves - capable, dignified, civilised workers - and

idle Fascist tramps is a very widespread stereotype that is partially shared
even by those who did not deny their Fascist beliefs. Martino, who remained
loyal to his self-image as a serious Fascist (who had become one when he was 6
years old, in reaction to the maltreatment of his female schoolteacher by the
reds) recalled:
You had to see the enthusiasm that there was then ... because Mussolini, I must say,
eh, before knowing him, since he was ... I considered him a Southerner, then I had it
*The English equivalent is Trades Council.
108 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

from my father as well, well before he died, my father died in 1929, I'd learnt some
particulars that I didn't like, he had ragged trousers, he was a Socialist, eh, he was,
let's say ... an opportunist, he was a traitor, let's say, of Socialism, and so forth, and so
I didn't, didn't view him in a good light when he came to power, because I was not a
member of any party till 1932, none at all, then I joined the National Fascist Party, in
The reference to Mussolini's past was a source of frequent abuse as the
archives also testify:
In April 1939, during the lunch-break, Eugenia Marcellina (born in Orbassano in
1914) and a worker at the Aeronautica d'ltalia factory, criticised Mussolini because he
also wanted France after Africa, Corsica and Tunisia, and concluded 'The Duce was a
tramp and isn't fit to lead a nation'.
The worker Agostino Cavallero (born in Turin in 1877), resident at the
council refuge, while looking at a photograph of the Duce in the newspaper La
Stampa in June 1939 exclaimed: 'They took a photograph of a real tramp!' 103
It is worth remembering that the reference to the figure of the tramp is
echoed in the historical analysis of the Fascists as social 'misfits', about whom
Gino Germani has written, pointing out the parallel between the class basis of
early Fascism and its popular representations. 104 This is consistent with the
image of the Fascists in power behaving like upstarts, trying to grab
everything, while cloaking themselves in respectability.
Solid, bourgeois Italians were not the only ones to direct their irony at the
conquerors of power and their uncivilised ways. We have already come across
a similar representation, part working class, part popular, in the recollection
of a local, minor Fascist (section 5). Both he and his wife were parodies of
people who want social advancement independent of their work, and who
have pretensions to grandeur, while being devoid of any real superiority.
So we find persistent references made to Mussolini's low social origins, even
if in many different guises.
[In December 1938, at the labour exchange of the Fascist Industrial Unions, the
worker, Giovanni Cordara (born in Calamandrana, Asti in 1907), speaking to other
unemployed people declared:] 'I would rather go into exile than live in misery. The
King is wrong to leave Mussolini in government and to give him a free hand. If he'd at
least been a general, but he was only a corporal of the infantry.'105
At the same time the identification of Fascists as layabouts and idlers invited
forthright gestures of contempt, like that of Giuseppe Vallino (born in
Saluggia in 1882), an unemployed mechanic, in 1937:
[In December of that year] some Fascists from the district group 'Mario Sonzini'
approached a man who was under the influence of drink and told him to go home. This
man, later identified as Giuseppe Vallino, talked incoherently for a bit and then said:
'You are all cowards because you let yourself be led on by that layabout Mussolini who
got the better of the Aventine because he had no opposition ... I'm not afraid of
anyone. Mussolini is now on the way down and that is the truth.' That said, he threw a
10 lire coin on the ground, adding 'take that - you scum'.106
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 109

The same theme is taken up again by Benigno Bricca (the 'comrade' who told
his autobiography in the third person) with a Communist militant's contempt
for a political upstart: 'I still well remember the 10 June 1940, when the
big-mouth whom Terracini used to call cornuto* came out on to Piazza Venezia
to announce the declaration of war on America, Russia, England . . . he
declared war on everyone, although completely unprepared.'
Another aspect which is sometimes highlighted in this set of images relating
to the Fascists is their agitated manner and inflated ambitions, in contrast to
the composure and calm self-assurance of the subjects telling the stories. So
Luigi Vercellotti (who boasted of being a worker, 'with a magic touch'
moderate in politics) said of Mussolini's speech at Fiat Lingotto in 1932:
'There spoke Garibaldi!' 'Garibaldi' was not a malicious epithet but had a
definite ring of resentment typical of the older generation of Piedmontese, for
whom the hero caused more trouble than anything else, forcing them to take
on commitments that they did not consider their own. 107 Other more obvious
titles refer to the preferred colour of Fascism - the term 'Moors' seemed more
common than 'blacks' in workers' circles in Turin (often in its dialect form i
mdro); for example, 'Death to the Moors' (in a toilet in No. 3 fitters' section of
the Savigliano workshop, November 1934). Others reflect awareness of
economic oppression: Mussolini is defined as 'the tyrant who is starving the
people' (ibid.), 'vampire' (1936 at the spring section of the Piedmontese
Ironworks) and the Fascists are called 'exploiters of cowardly workers' (in the
words of a drunken labourer, in December). 108
Some themes of particular interest for cultural history are found in the
uniform chorus of insults directed at the Duce. A series of nicknames used for
Mussolini refer to recurrent themes, such as the opposition of Turin/Rome
(that 'cretin in Rome' said a worker at Grandi Motori in 1940).109 Others
reflect signs of the time and place: for example, 'The Duce is pixilated' (// Duce
picchiatello) a slogan found in Turin in 1940, on the walls of three different
plants. Menarini reminds us that the term had been introduced into Italy in
the winter of 1936-7 with the showing of the film Mr Deeds Goes to Town (with
Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur), in which the Italian translation of the slang
term 'pixilated' was used to hint at the eccentric character of the protagonist.
In 1940, the term had a new lease of life as Italian for 'dive-bomber' (No. 88 of
Bulletin of War 30 September 1940). H0 The name 'Cerutti', a very common
surname in Turin, was used 'for affectionately taking the mickey out of people
whose real name you jokingly pretended not to know'. 111 Local comic names
had the advantage, under a dictatorial regime, of avoiding over-explicit
reference, acting as cryptic nicknames. The effect was often extremely comic.
One example is the following:
(In February 1941, at Fiat Grandi Motori, the worker, Alfredo Colombi (born in
Rimini in 1899) shortly before beginning work said to a fellow worker:) 'We have taken
*il cornuto is a vulgar expression of contempt for a man derided as a cuckold.
110 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
heavy losses in Greece and Africa. I don't understand why those criminals Mussolini
and Hitler insist on continuing to have so many people massacred and tofighta nation
that is more powerful than we are, and which doesn't give a damn about us for the
simple reason that since they have already defeated Napoleon they will succeed in
defeating Mussolini and Hitler as well. I would take Cerutti [the name with which he
alluded to the Duce] put him in a cage at the end of the war, exhibiting him on the
street at 5 lire a go - 1 would be sure of becoming a millionaire. If they gave him to me
I'd tear him to pieces.'
[Colombi found no better excuse than to maintain that he had been telling a yarn]
when he was stopped and taken in for questioning, he confessed to having told the
following silly story: 'if, by chance, they should lose the war, Cerutti would be put into
a cage, and people charged 5 lire a head, to pay for the war debts'.112
This example takes us back to the iconography of the popular comic tradition,
various elements of which pop up again here; for example, the idea of tearing
to pieces and the reference to the cage containing animals or deformed beings
belong to the world of the street stall and fair. The insults identifying
Mussolini with 'baseness' are extremely numerous and varied. 'Duce, you
plague'; 'They only protect the sluts who have children' (said Anna Bonino, a
domestic servant, in 1940, with obvious reference to the protection, afforded
by the regime, to unmarried mothers); 'the Duce is a miserable faggot'
(written in a toilet in the United Rubber Industries Factories). 113
The equation of Mussolini with animals, symbolising 'baseness' was
particularly frequent: 'Duce ass' (on the toilet door at RIV), 'listen to the
swine talk' (paper workers at Balangero listening to the Duce's speech on the
radio), 114 'that fat pig of a Duce'. With the privations brought about by the
Second World War, the epithets of 'pig' and 'greedy guts' proliferated,
enriched with colourful details, turning the rhetoric of the past about the 'fat
bourgeois' against Fascism. (By that time, even the instructions to the press
forbade them to dwell on the weight loss of the Italian people.) An example of
debasing the Duce to the level of an animal is vividly represented in the
following story:
[In January 1941] the management of the Aeronautica d'ltalia pointed out to the
Commissar of Public Order, San Donato, that the worker Ottavio Mazzucco (born in
S. Salvatore, Alexandria in 1915), while eating some bread, had taken a crumb and
exclaimed as he threw it under the bench: 'Duce, here, eat, you fat pig, this is for
Obviously the invention of all these pejorative terms was provoked by the
super-abundance of pompous titles, 'Duce', 'Founder of the Empire', 'Protec-
tor of Islam' thought up by the press propaganda machine and politicians.
There was a pleasure in debasing what was exalted and adulated.
The representations of Fascists take up the same theme but in a more
vulgar tone. They are often envisaged as deformed creatures, mean and
perverse. Here is Lelio's account of the early 1920s (based on his experience in
the dance halls which, he boasted, he knew well, presenting himself as one of
those who could amuse himself with very little).
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 111

I remember that at the time the place to go and dance was the Pagoda and the
drummer was called, was nicknamed the 'woolly skin' because practically ... He was
from the Barriere di Milano*, no, he was ... without any offence intended ... let's say
an abortion, he was an ape, he was a person ... one who was associated with six, seven,
eight maybe ten of those thugs, he went round stirring up trouble, then the other ten
arrived and beat the person up. See? He was already a perverse sod, and by the way he
played he played the drums very well.
The Fascists, with their blackshirts and habit of going around in swarms,
invited comparison with the slow, black, blind cockroaches, great hordes of
which were so difficult to eradicate from old houses. Maria Coletto (whom
we remember from her anecdote about indigestion from chocolate in the
The blacks always gave the orders. The reds were never able to. They never destroyed
the Fascists, no-one ever managed to. They said it then, that they were cockroaches.
The reds were never able to do anything, like now they cannot do anything. The priests
always give the orders. Now there are no longer the Fascists, there are the priests, it's
the same thing.
The Fascists' badge came to be known as 'bedbug', 'fly' or Tag-end,' as some
police records as well as recollections testify. However, amid the signs of
hostility, the insults and degrading analogies, a certain propensity to spare the
figure of Mussolini himself can be detected. For example, far from sympa-
thising with Fascist feelings, Francesca Gaveglio, a tester at Fiat Lingotto,
said: 'It seems impossible that the Duce, with that handsome open face, could
be an imposter.' 116 A kind of sympathy for Mussolini, combined with the
tendency to exonerate him from the most serious blame, emerges even from
the interviews. Eugenia Candellero (who, consistent with her initial choice of
poverty, often insists on her own indifference to forms of terrestrial power)
said: 'But if the Duce did bad things, the others did worse. It was hopeless,
that man was unlucky because, apart from everything else, he left the
government because they'd already plotted against him. We could see all his
men always betrayed him.'
Even subjects who were undoubtedly anti-fascists refer to some excuse in
Mussolini's favour. Lina Villata who lost her partisan son in the Resistance
said: 'The Duce was the Duce, he did what he believed in, had his convictions
and hopes and, in my opinion, I'm sorry to say perhaps, if he hadn't gone with
the Fuhrer, it perhaps would have ended up differently, I think, no . . . this is
my own opinion . . . but then I'm not up to . . . '
The positive aspects of Fascism are therefore attributed to the Duce with
whom many seem to have had a complex, and not unequivocal, relationship.
He became the object of a great many positive and negative projections. An
analysis of collective psychology is required to decipher the complexity of
what appears as a game of mirrors, in which the insults, couched in the form of
jokes, rebound from the target on to the narrator himself. For the time being,
*A quartiere of Turin in the direction of Milan.
112 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

we have only vague and disturbing intuitions, like those of Borgese, according
to whom Mussolini embodied a collective self-image of the Italian people who
saw themselves as *a nation of geniuses in a universe of idiots, and a mass of
cowards in a world of heroes'. 117 The popular representation of Mussolini
could be a caricature that draws on the collective imaginary world.

10 Fascism and popular culture

The figure of Mussolini

The range of behaviour patterns, expressions and attitudes which we have

surveyed form a system that is not solely the product of the categorisation of
crime by the repressive apparatus. It is true that the Fascists' attack on forms
of behaviour gave them a common character and meaning they previously
lacked. It is true that the attempt to colonise public space, along with the
spheres of language and signs, brought uniformity to ways of life, ways of
dressing and of expressing oneself. Talking, shouting, singing, exclaiming,
cursing and swearing, getting drunk and hanging about on the streets, were
all forms of behaviour that found common ground and new meaning in the
face of repression. Even here, there often appears to be a throwback to a
unitary repertoire, to an iconography derived from the comic tradition of
popular culture.
The vitality of this culture is related to its eclecticism, and its potential for
adaptation according to historical circumstance. The individuals who revived
the tradition could no longer take for granted ritual occasions when all the
people came together and felt a shared identity in their common culture,
whether it was in the ancient street festival or on the Socialist demonstration.
By that time, the outward signs of a symbolic repertoire would appear
disparate and incoherent, and would undoubtedly be unrecognisable to
anyone going in search of surviving conventional popular culture. However,
the 'apolitical' protest and resistance which we have seen was the fruit of
inventive adaptation of old traditions to present needs. But the repertoire, if
one knows how to interpret it, is not confined to this temporary usage, but
resurrects past usage and gives a foretaste of future paths of development.
This analysis is borne out by the attitudes of the regime itself. Up to now we
have seen its repressive attacks and occasional attempts to appropriate
traditional symbolic forms. This area constitutes an immense field of
research, which is still largely untapped. We will try here at least to throw
light on some issues immediately raised by this research.
We have seen with the examples of castor oil and the colour black, the
Fascist use of the grotesque, of violence and references to death and equality,
faeces and the 'base'. All these can be interpreted in the light of the comic
tradition. The Fascist movement took over the popular repertoire, especially
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 113

its negative side which debased and degraded, using ridicule and mockery to
destroy rather than renew. However, the appeal to the age-old ambivalence
was not totally lost if the symbols imposed through violence succeeded in
representing the new order. Once again they came to signify the transition
from chaos to harmony, albeit in a coerced and regimented form.
Another implicit attempt by Fascism to draw on the repertoire of popular
culture can be seen in Mussolini's physical behaviour in public. The gesticu-
lations - the pouting lips, the swelling of the chest, arms arched on hips and
the strutting about in cocky triumph - can all be considered elements of a
grotesque presentation of the body. Whether the body was pregnant, poly-
morphous, or laughably deformed, it was a throwback to a world where the
distinctions between bodies were not clearly defined. The Luce films have
preserved some of Mussolini's extraordinary performances for us, taking us
right back to comic culture. It is clearly visible in the Ancona speech of
1932.118 In it the Duce gives a display of almost the whole range of his typical
gestures - rocking back and forth, letting his head dangle, supporting himself
on the parapet and recoiling violently, hitting the windowsill with the palm
of his hand, clenching his fist, spreading his hand out like a fan over his face,
putting his index finger and thumb together in a circle to emphasise a point.
The gestures of the comic theatre were combined with the manner familiar to
the street and tavern. It drew on a traditional set of popular gestures which
were grotesque, ironic, bragging and rather coarse. It is the ostentatiously
raised eyebrow, the finger wagged reprovingly and with petulance, but above
all, the jutting lips, the dramatic facial expressions and disdainful profile, the
vigorous gestures of refusal and assent, the movements of someone who knew
what was what, and would not let himself be taken in by anything. Here was
the impersonation of someone who was always on the mark, grasped the
point and hit the nail on the head. As for the tone, the rapid shifting from
high to low registers, and back again, the change from sad to furious, and
from talking almost in tongue-twisters to spelling everything out by scanning
the syllables - these were equally typical forms of the theatre of the
On the other hand, the set dialogue of question-and-answer established by
Fascist oratory does not only have precedents in the Fiume episode and
Socialist past of the young Mussolini. Popular language was certainly an
older source of the dialogue format, in which most of the story is dramatised
in direct speech (as appears in the extracts from the interviews cited here).
Apart from 'linguistic exhibitionism' in Mussolini's oratory, the non-
linguistic signs are of obvious importance. These are the facial movements,
the rolling eyes, the ranting and posturing in the hieratic and grotesque
poses. Bottai described Mussolini putting on a typical performance of the
popular mask: 'All of a sudden, he was rolling his eyes and pirouetting
round, and then like someone in an uncontainable frenzy he shouted in a
114 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

shrill, slightly hysterical voice: "Fire, gentlemen! It's the moment to fire!"'
(He was watching the weaponry on parade in the military manoeuvres of
July 1938.)119
An interesting aspect of this exhibitionism was the way it set off a whole
series of conscious or unwitting imitations. The spread of Mussolinian poses
was observed - the hands on hips, the head thrown back and the staring
downwards with eyebrows arched. The comic and, at the same time,
seductive effect of the Mussolinian poses derived, according to Longanesi,
from the fact that Mussolini gave free rein to 'his own vanity without
inhibition'. 120 This tendency to imitate the dictator, out of admiration or
parody, could be linked to a narcissism which encouraged mimesis (albeit
unconsciously), because it was already parodying and mimicking itself.
Francesco Flora remembers that tendency to parody the Duce's way of
speaking was also irresistable because 'imitating a mask figure like Mussolini
is always much easier than imitating a human being'. (He also confessed that
he himself, on the day war was declared, took off the speech which the Duce
would one day have to make, announcing the defeat.)121
Apart from looking at its roots in the popular comic and theatrical
traditions, it is also necessary to consider the psychological mechanisms of
narcissism which tend to create an infatuation which annihilates the identity
of the other. This, in turn, rebounds on the subject, who, without a sense of the
other, loses his own identity as well, becoming simply a blown-up imitation of
the destructive power.122
Sometimes Mussolini's 'movement of the jaws and lips is so precise and
rigid that it brings to mind the precision action of a vice'. 123 Moreover, he
embodied a degraded version of the historic comic image which accorded to
living beings an affinity with soulless creatures who moved in rhythmic jerks,
where the masked character is transformed into a robot, embodying the
mechanical movements of a marionette. This is also the sensation created by
images of the march-pasts and parades where the procession moved with a
stiffness induced by iron discipline. The jerking gait of a marionette and the
automatic, repetitive and identical gestures of the individuals in uniform
seem like a belated caricature of an idea taken from the popular comic
tradition, already revived by the Romantics. As in films about robots, like
Metropolis, the individual is moved by a cosmic force and gradually trans-
formed into an alien and incomprehensible force, riddled through with
anxiety. One gets the same impression of uniformity, for example, from the
images of prize-giving in the Fascist celebration of Epiphany: a child holds
out its arms mechanically and a Fascist woman puts a long parcel in them,
while another woman adds a round parcel. The child moves on and another
one comes up who repeats all the same movements at a slower but similar
rhythm to that of an assembly line, giving the idea that everything and
everyone is interchangeable. 124
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 115

In conclusion, it is worth recalling that the appropriation of forms drawn

from the popular tradition was only one aspect of the attempt to take over the
heritage of the past. This fitted into a comprehensive plan to appropriate the
history of Italy through a selective piecing together and fabrication. (Even in
the speech at Ancona, cited earlier, an appeal was made to the immortality of
history that challenges 'the fatal passing of time' - this included quotations
from the Gospels and references to the glory of ancient Rome.) Perhaps the
most effective actions, as far as the popular masses and working people were
concerned, were those aimed at taking over customs and habits, and
reshaping and adding to them. If the 'battle against the polite "you" form -
Lef impinged little on the working class, the imposition of the Roman salute
was more restrictive and also had a strong symbolic impact because it was a
counter to the clenched fist and handshake. The widespread use of the salute
with arms raised and palms of the hands open, which even children could not
avoid,125 was resented by many for being another violation of freedom of
movement. One of our subjects, Albina Cavaglione Lusso, felt it necessary to
stress that when the Federal Secretary visited the Maglificio Usigli in 1933 or
1934, she did not want to raise her arm in the Roman salute.
Other decisive contests in the struggle on the symbolic plane, were the
changes to the Calendar. The Fascist year began on 29 October (the
anniversary of the March on Rome) and the years were counted starting from
1922. Above all, time revolved around political events, solemnly commemmo-
rated by demonstrations and by the press and radio. At the end of 1923, May
Day was replaced by the 'Birth of Rome' - Labour Day (21 April). Starting
from 1938, workers received normal pay on anniversaries, like the Foundation
of the Empire (9 May), the March on Rome (28 October) and the Anniver-
sary of the Victory (4 November). 126 However, with these efforts to take over
and change the meaning of the old cultural heritage, Fascism also tried to
wipe out that part of the heritage most directly related to the 'subversive
memory' of the pre-fascist world.127 Under that regime, memories of the
working class past could not but be subversive.

The standardisation of folklore

The Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro* made explicit attempts to draw on

popular culture, and, from 1927, included in its activities of 'artistic edu-
cation' the task of keeping the folklore of the Italian contrade\ alive, by
appropriate processions and commemorations. 128 From 1928, folklore sec-
tions were set up in every provincial council of the OND. In 1933 a circular
from Starace ordered them to change the foreign term 'folklore' topopolaresca.%
*OND - the national 'after-work' leisure association set up by the Fascists.
\contrade administrative districts of cities, or simply regions.
J Fascist-invented variant ofpopolare.
116 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

According to Victoria De Grazia, the OND, by not bothering, for example,

with literacy and professional training, rejected one possible role it could have
played in the development of a modern technological culture. Instead it
devoted a lot of energy to supporting popular traditions, combining genuine
pre-industrial hangovers with pseudo-popular festivals invented by the
regime.129 This decision, and the interpretation of culture which went with it,
was not perhaps so inevitable. In 193839, a weekly journal // Maglio (The
Hammer'), produced at the headquarters of the Fascist Industrial Unions in
Turin, conducted a two-pronged attack on the definition of culture. They
opposed the political conception identified with the old working-class culture
championed by Socialists and Communists, which formed part of a 'red,
democratic' past. Furthermore, they opposed aspects of the popular tradition,
such as magic and superstitions still current among the population. Here is a
dialogue set in the 'refectory of a plant, during the lunch-break':
The culture of the workers is not a 'mumbo-jumbo of proverbs that do not have
anything to do with reality', but is a 'socio-technical, corporate, political culture', the
first metal worker insists, while the second one ridicules the sick woman's resort to the
magician of Pietrasanta, trying to convince himself not to meddle in magic.130
The outlook of the Turin Industrial Unions was that the retrieval of aspects of
'popular culture' would be useful. // Maglio could not help praising the
activities of the OND for its work in reviving festivals, regional traditions,
songs and folk legends. However, the main concern of the writers for that
newspaper was to put forward a conception of workers' culture as industrial
culture of a 'corporatist' character. 131 Consequently, in the debate on the
meaning of popular culture, launched by // Maglio, greater interest was shown
in work and free time as they were presented in the favourite mass media of
young workers. It was the mass culture, spread by American films, which
worried the Turin Fascist Union officials, who feared that the minds of young
workers were being corrupted by the exaltation of the easy and immoral life of
the super-rich, or by the caustic humour of comic films like Modern Times
(1936). In an article entitled 'Cinema for the Worker' (1938), Ferrari asked
Has a film been made, worthy of the name and of the deed, that recaptures the heroic
epic of Littoria*? No. Has a reply been given to Charlie Chaplin, depicting work in our
shopfloors as discipline freely accepted and joyously experienced? No. Do we have a
film which recounts the story of any worker at Lingotto, at the steel works, in the great
textile mills? No.
In comparison to these pressing demands, 'popularesque' art makes only a
fleeting appearance in connection with the more obviously ideological
concern for the preservation of the race, calling 'Italian workers back to the
almost forgotten paths' of art and popular culture. 132

* A town built on land reclaimed from swamps.

Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 117
Thus the fragmentation of culture was already underway in the 1930s,
separating the high culture of the elites, whether scientific or humanist, from
the mass culture transmitted by the media. In the background, there were the
popular traditions, to which was added the culture of the colonised peoples.
Italy, too, now looked on the latter as something to be conquered and turned
into exotica. The regime adopted a dual approach to 'other' cultures, though
perhaps more so for the subaltern culture of the metropolis than for that of the
colonised peoples. It engineered revivals, on the one hand, and on the other,
censored and discouraged living forms. (We have already seen the stigma
attached to the widespread use of magic by // Maglio.) OND was active in
Turin implementing the first part of this policy as well as in a number of other
fields. In 1930 and 1931 Turin OND held two competitions for songs in
Piedmontese dialect, in which Nino Costa, Brero and Pacot among others
took part. The genre, which highly regarded professionals performed as a
hobby, belonged to middle- to high-brow culture, even though the public who
followed it was vast. 133 Festivals and feasts were more popular enterprises; the
most lavish, which was certainly the Festival of the Grape, was celebrated
throughout Italy at the behest of the head of government, and was on a more
grandiose scale (at least in Turin) than the other important festivals, such as
that dedicated to Bread. In 1929, the Turin Festival of the Grape was still
organised jointly by the Famija Turineisa, the provincial OND and by the
Agriculturists Federation which mounted 'an imposing procession of floats
decorated as allegories symbolising the grape harvest, filled in with gracious
grape-pickers' which had won the fulsome praise of the prefect'.134
In subsequent years, only the provincial OND was involved in the
organisation. Here is a description of the 1936 festival:
The festival began at 3.00 p.m. with the Federal Secretary looking on as the long
procession offloatspassed by. All thefloatscelebrated the joyous but deep significance
of the gathering through their allegorical displays. The Veterans' OND, for example,
displayed an enormous colonial helmet, a fortress conquered in East Africa, and a
model of those legionaries who, having laid down their rifles, immediately took up
agricultural implements to work the land.135
Celebrations of this kind had an official air that distinguished them from the
commercial gatherings, like the 'Turin Spring Fair', that did not comprise
elements of folklore so much as fashion shows, sports and athletics compe-
titions, motorcycle, car and bicycle racing, brass-band contests and art
Among the other celebrations run by the Turin OND which should be
remembered are the 'popular and folklore entertainments' for the festival of
the patron saint of the city. The Festival of Snow (held at Bardonecchia) took
on a particular importance. It offered the opportunity for a 'display of youth'
and every conceivable acitivity. In January 1935, 10,000 members of Turin
OND took part, watching the parade of floats (mounted by OND) on which
118 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms

sportswear, folk costumes, Fascist symbols, eagles and flowers were piled
high. At the parade, the new flags were blessed by the religious authorities. 136
In 1939, the Festival of the Snow was amalgamated permanently with the
carnival celebrations. Regional (or so-called regional) costumes appeared on
many occasions. This meant giving a uniform to those who did not have one,
in a country dominated by uniforms, or imposing, instead, a standard bland
colour which would blot out every historical association or outstanding local
These traditions were made into folklore by exercising control over the
various popular cultural forms, via alterations and occasional additions. They
were unavoidably cast in the mould of 'the expression of the people' with a
mixture of nostalgia and conformism. Many aspects of reality were classified
and rendered harmless through student larks that treated these things with
mild bemusement and detachment. Many film journals exemplify this
approach, displaying the curious costumes of the colonised natives, and
showing the 'traffic problems' of Addis Ababa, crowded with trucks and herds
of animals. But everything could be captured and made 'characterful': not
just the Eritrean headgear or the eating of iguana in Malesia, but local
realities and images. Turin was always characterised by a man at work and by
terms like 'industrious' or 'hardworking'; Rome was represented by an
imposing woman, and so on, reducing everything to a conformist stereo-
type. 137
To bring the process of standardisation into focus, let us look at the case of
Carnival, which allows us to trace the disappearance of the associations which
grew up under the liberal regime, and their replacement by the OND. In the
period of Fascism's rise to power, Carnival was anything but alive and well in
Turin. The city, it was said, had not had carnivals of any note before 1865 -
the old people recalled the one of 1870 because of the grandiose celebrations -
but they soon went into decline again with a brief revival in 1886. In 1926 the
Famija Turineisa took up the tradition again, presenting it as a novelty for the
youth of Turin who had never taken part in the famous Carnival in which
Gianduja was the protagonist. The popular masque character, who had
reappeared after 23 years, was taken to visit the local Fascist club of Barriera
di Casale, which was known as a stronghold of people proud of their
Piedmontese roots. 138
In that Carnival, the floats had been organised by local (rione) clubs often
named after a region. The prize was won by the 'Veneti' club with a
spectacular 'Bucentaur'. In 1926 a model of the piazza of Callianetto,
including the 'head of Gianduja', the town-hall and windmill, with its wheel
turned by wine (in the form of red water) had been built in Piazza Carlo
Alberto, along with a relief map of the planned new Via Roma, placed
beneath the hall in Palazzo Carignano. 139
It is interesting to note that the Carnival was reborn under the influence of
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 119
nostalgia that inspired an attempt to revive something that was thought to be
unrepeatable. 'Our carnivals are a pale shadow of those recalled by our
grandfathers', G. Drovetti wrote in 1932, invoking the Gianduja feasts of
1868-93 and the Sunday before Lent when 'Via Po was all strewn with sand
for the procession to pass, part on foot and part on horseback'. On that
occasion, the aristocracy paraded in front of the people who pointed out the
nobles, who bestowed smiles on the admiring spectators. 140
Expressions of regret for that ordered world are persistent. It seems that
carnival revivals could not escape from the nostalgia generated by its
irreversible decline. Even in the climate of Fascist triumphalism, this tone
surfaced, for example, in 1938 in the journal Torino in an article signed
We, who recall the past carnivals in which there was a certain festivity, wonder
whether all this has gone. And we note in passing that carnival, the popular festival, is
no longer a noun but is reduced to an adjective. Now one hopes every so often that it
will come back again.141
The Famija Turineisa, which had relaunched Carnival in such a grandiose
manner, was set up in 1925 on the advice of the liberal Giovanni Borelli and
through the efforts of some professional people, led by the lawyer Giulio
Colombini, the organiser of the Young Liberals. The Famija wanted to be an
apolitical association, with the aim of reminding the Turinese of the 'noble
traditions of our ancestors', and not least, the use of Piedmontese dialect.
Many such associations were formed in those years, such as the Famija
Cuneisa in 1925 and the Famija Astesana in 1926, thanks also to the
encouragement that could be expected from the Fascist regime. The inclusion
of dialects in the school curriculum gave their supporters much cause for hope
and encouraged conferences and initiatives on the question.
The Turinese association devoted itself to cultural and recreational activi-
ties, boasting of its own inter-class character. Although it organised the free
time primarily of the middle and upper-middle classes, including some
aristocrats, manual workers were not lacking among its followers. From
September 1926, the Famija joined the Dopolavoro and took on responsibilities
that should have won favour from the regime. Among these, the most
interesting from our point of view were undoubtedly the worker allotments,
proposed by the lawyer Colombini after his trip to Britain. So the 'Turin
Allotment Association' grew up, for which the Famija obtained from the
council the concession of 8,000 square metres of land in Via Cigna on a
temporary lease. In May 1928, the first allotment was inaugurated: 200
square metres of irrigable land had been allocated to each user. A caretaker of
the plots distributed the seeds and taught them how to use them. 142
In 1927, the Turinese Allotments were placed under the patronage of the
head of government. It seemed that the Famija's life was assured despite the
pointed accusations of small town provincialism (campanilismo) coming from
120 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
within the Fascist hierarchy. Certainly the association's repeated show of
devotion to the Savoy dynasty caused annoyance. But, finally above all, its
active role in organising leisure activities, from picnics to cycling groups,
proved intolerable. Colombini managed for some time to mediate with the
help of friends of the Famija who had important roles in Turin Fascism, but
with Starace's move into the leadership of the PNF in 1931, and the
expansions of the OND's initiatives in 1932, the Famija lost its independence
and Carnival was suspended. The association was dissolved and in 1933 even
the journal 7 Caval 'd brons disappeared, while all its activities passed over to
the OND. For at least a century, the organisation of Carnival, for all its ups
and downs, involved the intermediate strata of the population, notably
students and professionals. However, sections of workers and artisans took a
more or less active part which was not confined to that of spectators at a
masked parade. Carlo Gobetti (born in 1909) recounts his memories as a
young worker:
There was thefloatsgoing round Turin, they carried a great quantity of sweets about,
eh! Then Via Po became a sea of people, going up and down: from one side they went
up to Piazza Castel and from the other went to Piazza Vittorio, the road was
choc-a-bloc wasn't it! Always was a lovely carnival, always. They made Gianduja,
Giacometta, then they made lovelyfloats.Ay, a bit like Viareggio and on from there to
Nice, those important carnivals ...
But you, what did you do? You went ...
Well, we went on the round-about - it went round like this ... Once I dressed up as
a Red-skin - You went around the streets like that, the masque characters included.
How old were you when you dressed up as a Red-skin?
Ah, twenty or so.
So not just children, adults as well.
Oh yes, yes. My cousin dressed up as a man. She seemed really life-like, often my
cousin, before she went away to France, liked to dress up like a boy, we used to go
together, with all our friends too ...
According to Gobetti, this practice began to decline after the First World War
but was swept away by Fascism:
They didn't want it to happen anymore, it seemed it was Fascism that ..., because
there were people who did things they shouldn't have, I don't know, with the excuse of
wearing masks. It was forbidden to wear masks in the street, you know. If it was in a
private club, I don't know, or at a ball, it was different, but they didn't allow
masquerading outside anymore. Maybe they still did it ..., there were all the
amusements there but no longer the masks. Only children, it was all right for the
children perhaps to be dressed up in costume, but they didn't want the grown-ups to
anymore, no.
What the subject is referring to is the ban imposed by the Unified Code of
Public Order in 1926, article 83, on 'appearing masked in public places'. 143
Despite this ban, Carnival had been revived: the elimination of spontaneous
festivities went hand-in-hand with the organisational initiatives of the OND.
So the regime simultaneously suppressed, transformed and utilised carnival
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 121
through its dual policy of taking over and replacing the historic cultural
traditions. The festivities fitted in, in fact, with the all-embracing framework
of the new dominant culture whose popular supports were designed to form a
bridge between the state and the masses.
The Turin provincial OND took on the organisation of a carnival for 1937,
designed to be 'geared to modern life5 and to eliminate 'what could seem
passe\ Through 'rational, careful organisation', it was claimed, 'carnival will
come back to life as a truly typical festivity'. The whole programme, starting
with the enological-gastronomic village, was riddled with classifications of
what was 'typical' and 'characteristic', to the point of obsession.
It is the first time in our city that we have been offered the chance to get to know the
tasty and delicious dishes of the most renowned and typical cuisines of Italy. To add to
the interest in the preparation of these typical cuisines, they will be set in buildings in
the characteristic style of the different regions and with surroundings that convey the
environment and local colour.
The student 'rag' was just as 'characteristic' as the exotic. The procession of
'symbolic and grotesque floats' interspersed with floats representing floral
allegories of the major OND and firms in the city was followed by a procession
of the GUF* with floats representing the faculties. Lastly, 'behind the floats,
the Abyssinian procession will proceed at a very slow pace: this will be a
mock-serious student "rag" parade, that will satisfy the fancy of the most
whimsical minds, since it will recreate Ethiopian customs'.
It was assumed that 'the people' loved such festivities which culminated in
the 'popular feast' of the Monday before Lent. 'Groups in costume will come
from far away to dance and toast the fortunes of hospitable Turin, bands and
accordianists will play, songs and ballads will ring out, games and pastimes
will unceasingly restore the gaiety of the people', while for the other classes 'a
grandiose and elegant ball in Palazzo Madama' 144 was envisaged.
In 1939, they wanted to lay stress on the 'popular' character of the Carnival
when the Federal Secretary, Piero Gazzotti, decided to make 'the people
protagonists rather than spectators'. He gave instructions for Carnival to be
decentralised to the localities (rione). Pavilions, including bars and dance
areas, were built, 'with the same plan and aims, both for the centre and the
outskirts'. Even the traditional wine fair was permanently removed from the
control of the Traders' Corporation and entrusted to the OND. 145
The decentralisation of Carnival entailed the loss of the fun of everyone
meeting up in the city centre, where the fun-fair and wine fair were sited. The
overly rural (strapaese) elements had little to do with Turin traditions. Perhaps
the scant popular participation in the Turin carnival of February 1939, noted
by a confidante of the Party, was also due to this. The passivity was so marked
that it almost amounted to protest; 146 but such a response cannot be

* Gioventu Universitaria Fascista: the University Fascist Youth.

122 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
interpreted as resistance to the standardisation of Carnival. The passivity was
perhaps due more to competition from other emerging forms of mass culture
(radio, cinema, sport) than to reluctance due to loyalty to popular cultural
traditions. The latter, as we have seen, was found elsewhere in the hidden
corners of everyday life.
We have brought to light, therefore, a disjuncture in levels, between the
explicit attempts of the Fascist regime to draw on the repertoire of popular
culture, and the protest embodied in the adaptation of the past tradition and
cultural resistance at the symbolic level, which form the object of this
research. We are not dealing with the direct opposition of the dominated to
their domination within a given field, such as official folklore.147 The
authentic cultural tradition that had been forgotten, repressed or lost, came
out informally in everyday life, as we have tried to show.148
The studies of folklore remind us, however, not only of the differences, but
also of the similarities between the rituals pertaining to conventional folklore
and those belonging to the folklore that permeates everyday life. Among the
most obvious parallels that they confirm is the plurality of meanings found in
age-old cultures, their adaptability to progressive or reactionary uses on
account of their great historical depth and vitality. The use of popular comic
forms in Mussolinian oratory or the routine face-pulling at the Fascists'
expense shows how double-edged they were - open to appropriation for the
regime's displays of power or for its opponents' cultural resistance.149

11 Cultural identity and Fascism as evil

Now let us move on to summarise the ground that has been covered.
Examining cultural forms has led us beyond the confines of the factory and of
the industrial working class, highlighting what it had in common, not just
with employees in the public sector and construction, but with the
unemployed and sub-proletariat, not to mention the lower middle class
(artisans and small traders) who were the next rung up on the ladder.
Moreover, we have seen how a culture is the expression of a locality without
being purely local, and this in no way goes against the idea of there being
a working-class culture. The aim, here, is to show the inadequacy of
reductionist conceptions of it as an agglomeration of reactions to industriali-
sation, and the mistake of ascribing definitive cultural attitudes to one
particular social stratum solely on the basis of what differentiates it from all
others. A non-reductionist analysis of working-class cultures forces one to
rethink the supposed 'difference' of such cultures and to break with definitions
which isolate them in a ghetto. If the cultural responses of other strata and
other generations are studied with the same criteria we would adopt to
analyse ourselves, the rigid contours articulating a uniform culture to a single
social class become blurred. Not only do the similarities with forms of
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 123
expression from earlier periods and other social conditions come into focus
but also the influence of specifically cultural factors, such as oral traditions
and literary genres.
Moreover, one cannot speak of cultural forms as closed systems of images
handed down from generation to generation, almost as if the collective
'imaginary' were an object or a physical terrain to colonise. This is to forget
the non-practical nature of relations in the field of the 'imaginary' where
'disillusion is inevitable' and the relational aspect is all-important. 150 At the
same time, no social class can be the bearer of cultural emancipation in the
modern world by confining itself to the affirmation of its own particular
culture. The act of emancipation consists of going beyond such limits by
linking up with other social groups, as protagonists in a process which will
transform them as well. We have seen glimpses of such a movement in our
survey, confirming that the legacy of popular traditions belongs to everyone,
and not to the 'people' meaning a section of peasants, workers or sub-
We have already intimated that these cultural and symbolic forms were
shared by, but not exclusive to, the working class. We would now like to
underline that such forms were not by any means the sole heritage of peasants
or marginalised strata: rather they constituted weapons of struggle in the
central conflict between the working class and the regime. It is important that
the Turin working class of the inter-war period shared forms of popular
culture to the degree that it was able to make active use of them as weapons of
cultural struggle. It used those forms in this way in specific conflicts in the
factory and neighbourhood, thereby opposing the regime as a cultural and
social force.
Naturally it must be remembered that the more explicitly political signs,
writings, phrases or symbols, such as the hammer and sickle, were also
extremely numerous, as were direct references to the grave material prob-
lems, such as lack of bread, potatoes and soap, especially for the duration of
the war. Although the old self-irony often cropped up here ('Long live hunger',
scrawled on a door of the workers' changing rooms at Fiat Ricambi in Via
Marocchetti, in 1942)151 an obsessive preoccupation with material conditions
began to make itself felt.
As far as the responses surveyed are concerned, it is obvious that economic
and political factors may have been responsible. However, it is essential for us
to succeed in isolating their cultural significance without attributing 'hidden'
political meanings to them or underestimating the minor transgressions by
relegating them to an embryonic political phase of abortive aspirations.
However, as the poetic evocation and Utopian prelude of another vision of the
world, they reveal a willingness to defend and maintain the autonomy of
The fact that these signs of cultural resistance are forced sometimes to act
124 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
as a substitute for politics does not enable them to transcend the barrier that,
in technologically advanced societies, separates everyday life and culture from
politics. Politics can play a mediating role in conflicts, even if this takes
somewhat pathological forms, precisely because it is a separate sphere.
The situation which we have examined is distinguished by the fact that
politics under the Fascist regime was constituted as a totally separate sphere
to exclude the working class violently from participation. Consequently, even
if it appears as an optical illusion, the cultural struggle, in those conditions,
seems to have prefigured much later battles which insisted that politics
become an integral part of everyday life, or that forms of culture be politicised.
However, these aims were at odds, because the latter had often sought to
abolish politics and political institutions as a separate sphere, or at least to
extend its boundaries more widely, while the forms of cultural resistance in
the Fascist period can ultimately be interpreted as signs of great hardship and
privation that also cried out for the restoration of the right to political
participation for working people. If one does not try at all costs to judge the
forms of cultural resistance in terms of an absent political project, their
considerable repercussions on everyday life can be better appreciated even if
they prove difficult to quantify. The memories can be revealing: Lina Villata
recalls the reaction to a derisory slogan against Fascism, in her account of the
women workers' journey to the tobacco factory:
You left from Porta Palazzo. There was a little train, and so you went down and made
the whole round trip to the cemetery arriving at Regio Parco - the war had already
begun then ... and then one morning, one of the women looks out and says 'Oh'... but
she turns round but doesn't show anyone else. Then another one says 'But what...!'
Another one looks up too, and says 'Oh God!' Because there were also auxiliaries on
the trains, we were guarded like soldiers, weren't we. Oh, yes! Oh, yes! So can you
guess what was written on the wall? 'Wind, wind, carry the Duce inside here!' [i.e. the
cemetery] Do you see? 'Wind, wind, carry the Duce inside here.' And it was writ so
high. That they might carry him to the grave, that he was finished, that we'd had
Lina added: 'You can imagine how we saw that! We saw nothing!' Apparently
they saw nothing, just like the patient in a catatonic trance, who one comes to
realise had taken in everything without giving any sign of understanding. 152
However, to assess the importance of these minor offences, they need to be
linked to a conception of the future, a subsequent uprising that was perhaps
not supposed to appear likely, but more as wishful thinking.
At this point we can no longer avoid the problem of regression and how it
has been dealt with, a theme which has, throughout the chapter, been lurking
beneath the surface. Many histories of Fascism maintain that the period of
dictatorship was, in many respects, a regression. (A theme that has something
in common with the theory that Fascism was a parenthesis.) It seems,
especially when the working class is referred to, that the only explanation of its
behaviour is that it took a step backwards under the pressure of violence. For
Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life 125

phenomena such as those we have surveyed, which included drunkenness,

blasphemy and obscenity, what simpler interpretation could there be? The
working class, deprived of its political institutions, retreated into its past, to a
pre-industrial culture. However, Silone once again puts us on our guard: in
the words of Tommaso the Cynic: 'What do you mean by "backward" in the
epoch of mass civilisation? The remains of a primitive mentality lie dormant
at all levels of the social hierarchy.' 153
It is the nature of culture in mass societies that it cannot dispense with
primitive forms of culture, but resurrects and propagates them, in either
decayed or revitalised form. The cultural struggle, as we have stressed, ranges
over a vast field including high culture, industrial culture and mass culture.
Equally, in the phenomena we have analysed, there is the emergence of that
'dark side' of the individual, which forms the object of psychology, related as it
is to the folklore heritage of whole communities and generations. 154 The
anthropologists and folklorists on the one hand, and psychologists on the
other, caution us not to interpret the culture of the 'other', or the unconscious,
as phases which later cultures or the ego grow out of. They should not be
treated as phases that are over and done with; they will appear in a completely
new form in subsequent development. In other words, they warn us against
applying a notion of unilinear development to cultural phenomena.
In fact 'regression', in a cultural sense, does not mean a relapse into a state
of nature, but recourse to older living forms. These can, in certain circum-
stances, be the only means of reaffirming an identity which has been
undermined, and universal values which have been compromised by material
and cultural pressures. This reverses the roles of our rivals: the Fascist regime,
which claimed to be on the side of 'modernisation', by promoting social
change and a national identity, was the force that brought the real 'regression'
in that it eradicated or manipulated a cultural heritage of great historical
depth, for its own ends.
The inescapable fact remains that we are confronted by a real and ruthless
impoverishment of working-class culture. We see it reduced to stunted forms
of expression, defending tooth and nail the most meagre and miserable space
in its struggle not to surrender. Although pushed to the edge of endurance, the
working class displayed the resilience and inventiveness of older cultural
identities, revealing the limits of their own political cultures, whether
Socialist, Communist or Anarchist, which had unduly neglected or forgotten
the 'dark side' of the individual and of humanity as a whole. This resistance
was based on living forms of culture, on defences that also acted as a source of
self-affirmation, although not without individual grief and collective loss,
defeat and real regression.
With this in mind, we can return to the one unresolved issue, the conception
of Fascism that emerges from the oral sources. By now the supra-historical
inspiration of the testimonies has become clear. They interpret the world by
126 Oral sources and grass-roots cultural forms
fitting the conflict between the two opposing forces, Fascism and the working
class, into a cosmic struggle between the dark forces of history and the bearers
of a new social order, and show their desire to be on the side of good. Such a
framework, whose apparent simplicity brings Croce's theory of Fascism to
mind, has a great advantage over many more sophisticated historical
accounts, in that it does not underplay the dramatic experience of Fascism,
the mortal danger (not only political) embodied in the loss of democratic
liberties, and the degradation to which the working population was subjected.
Fascism still appears, in their eyes, as the evil atrophy and poisoning of the
spirit and as the bad side of modernisation.
If the least durable part of Croce's interpretation of Fascism - as an
'infection' and 'parenthesis', 'a foreign body implanted on centuries of Italian
history'155 - has been justly abandoned in more recent historical accounts
critical of its overall interpretative framework, it is not entirely without
foundation. It is a question of separating the ephemeral chaff (the theories of
parenthesis and infection) which were useful apologetics for the liberal
regime, from what can still offer important insights such as the theory of
Fascism as moral decline and evil.156 This emerged from the question of the
ethical imperative confronting history in Crocean thought. The analysis can
certainly be applied again, without reducing the whole of Fascism to evil,
particularly in relation to cultural phenomena and the repercussions on them
of the weakness of democratic institutions and constitutional rights - quite
apart from the restrictions on free rational debate. But it is possible to go even
further than Croce and speak of 'evil' in a deeper sense, in terms of loss of
cultural expression, and the surrender to a base instinct of rabid anti-
Semitism in Germany and of self-complacency and indifference in Italy.157 So
it is possible to grasp the contradiction between the mass acquisition of
culture and forms of collective barbarity that were developed simultaneously
on the initiative of the dictatorships.
Although our sources have mainly highlighted hostile acts against the
regime, they have often also revealed their ambiguous nature. They function,
at one and the same time, as acts of resistance to Fascism, and as compen-
sations for the fact that people had pragmatically accepted the regime (as will
be seen in the next chapter). This, therefore, is the sense in which Fascism is
evil, in that it requires either the abnegation of one's cultural identity, or the
risk of blind attachment to one's past, irrespective of the possibilities of
changing and renewing one's identity. People dealt with the shame Fascism
brought by laughing, or by claiming resistance to it, albeit in small ways.
Part III

Oral sources and the history of the events

of everyday life

The focus of this part of the book is on the small-scale, everyday events recounted by
the subjects. These events are usually regarded as insignificant and irrelevant in
historical terms. They consist of ordinary matters, like deciding whether or not to have
children, and exceptional ones, like the visit of figures of authority. The reconstruction
of this type of event with the help of oral sources leads to analysis of'mentalities'.
Once again, one is faced with sets of attitudes which are not fixed but change
depending on whether one is dealing with ideologies of work or maternity, or with the
sense of belonging to a place. Likewise, analysis needs to take account of the processes
whereby traditions came into being. For example, in retrospect, Mussolini's visit to
Mirafiori in Turin has acquired a symbolic importance. The fact that stories are
passed down serves to prolong the life of a cultural identity or self-image. Oral
traditions have circular and mutually reinforcing tendencies.
Memory is selective. In particular, it gives prominence to moments of individual
and collective decision-making. Though it does not pass over ambivalent attitudes and
acquiescent behaviour in relation to Fascism, it mostly presents them as another face
of dissent. Memory tends, in fact, to elaborate what is narrated until it becomes
meaningful in a contemporary context, depending, of course, on the period and events
being recalled. For the Fascist period, memory is especially affected by the special
conditions in which everyday life was subjected to increasing control and surveillance.
The shift in the relationship between individuals and the State, and between the public
and private spheres, anticipated developments in our own time.
3 ** Forms of social acceptance of

1 The values of order

In the previous chapter, oral testimonies were considered from the point of
view of cultural resistance and the history of culture. However, the focus will
now be on the problem of analysing the changing relations between domina-
tors and dominated. Oral sources are invaluable in opening up this area for
further research and for exploring the history of'mentalities' and patterns of
In the testimonies, the elements indicating acceptance of Fascism often
appear tagged on to declarations expressing dissociation or distance from the
regime. Nevertheless, we find important signs of acceptance within the orbit
of the prevailing anti-fascist ideology. In the first place, the very idea of order
and imposed uniformity was accepted as a positive value. The imposition of
uniformity is recalled in its material and physical aspects, and presented as
the satisfaction of a desire for public identity, especially among the younger
ELENA (1919) A boy in my building was Fascist, we all were! Then when I managed
to put the - that's when they lent it to me, my father never bought one because we were
so poor, but if I had the uniform of giovane italiana* . . . I was the happiest girl in the
world! Well, so that's how you were then.
I remember when the Duce came to Turin, for example, my house was in corso
Unione Sovietica, he passed right in front, then they'd given us in the factories
permission to go out, to go and see him . . . hey, what an honour! There was my
sister-in-law, who was young, she was 17, she married my elder brother at 19. And so
she was really . . . She had the stripes of the giovane italiana, she was already at Fiat's,
she got into Fiat's at 15. I was green with envy. To see her there, all in line. And
instead, I was at the back with all the people that watched. But you were enthusiastic

T h e stress on aesthetic aspects and appearances, the importance of clothes,

is linked both to the common desire to show off in a new garment and to the
*The Fascist mass organisation for girls.
130 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
aspiration to be like one's peers ('Mum, at least make me a black skirt!', says
the daughter of Fernanda Luciani, who wants the uniform of the giovane
italiana - black skirt and white blouse). Some parents refused on financial
grounds ('I'm not going to make you one, I can't afford to', says Fernanda to
her daughter) but underneath there were political reasons as well. The theme
of uniforms recurs in the testimonies and would perhaps deserve to be
researched in its own right. It is noticeable that the passion for the uniform is
found principally among girls and women, while the boys generally express
indifference, and even loathing as far as the uniform of the premilitare* is
concerned! That is, no doubt, due in part to the unpopularity of the latter
institution, but it would seem due also to the discomfort and ugliness of the
uniform. Luigia Varusco, referring to her son's premilitare uniform: 'He has
the legs a bit on the big side, with those spats that didn't reach, and he
brought us home this uniform. I started to laugh, and he says: "I'm never
going to put it on." We put it like this in the wardrobe and it was due to go to
the rag-and-bone man because he never put it on!' As for the girls and women,
it is pretty obvious that the partial freedom represented by belonging to a
mass organisation, even if Fascist, was a real force for change in their lives,
and the uniform became a symbol standing for both the organisation and
The positive assessment of Fascism's role in keeping order refers principally
to the notions of discipline and security, linked in the mind to provision of
welfare (as in the cases of Candellero, Alessandra, Fabiana, etc.). Thus, there
is an ambivalence of attitude that gives rise to continuous oscillations when
MART A (1901) They brought in insurance stamps in 1922 - where the Duce went
wrong was the war - otherwise as a government it was fine, it was him brought in
pensions - there was no pension once what do you expect, for one good deed, he did
ten bad.
Do you remember when you needed to give the wedding-ring [for the war effort] ?
DELIA (1903) Ah, I gave that, certainly!
And then they also asked for iron, for example ...
DELIA That's right! I took that along as well. I remember carrying it to the
Pacchiotti school. I had a lovely wrought-iron lampstand. I took it, sent it all to the
Fatherland. (Delia then mentioned what happened to a Jewish relation.)
DELIA For that, I say that Mussolini was wrong, and let himself be taken in at the
time by what's that German called? Hitler! Ah, me, I've got it in for that one, not for
Mussolini ... - otherwise what good things did Fascism do?
DELIA Good things ... Look, I always remember that my husband used to say all
those fine motorways and everything, all the order that had come ... For example, I
remember, today, in via Garibaldi, you cross over all over the place, but at one time
Mussolini put some order into it. In via Garibaldi, you had to go up from that part
there and the traffic came from here, you hadn't to turn your back as you do now, now
trams don't go down via Garibaldi any more, but for the sake of argument ... in the
streets where they've got a two-way system as there was before, that was Mussolini's
*The mass organisation for males between the ages of 16 and 20.
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 131

doing. For example, you weren't, if the tram came along from here, to walk along there,
you had to go to the other side of the pavement and if the tram came along behind your
backs, use the other pavement to the tram, the cars came ... in such a way that you
could see ... then the cities took ... but that order was put there by Mussolini, to make,
to follow the one-way system, the right way. Ah, I remember that ... Then, my
husband, he was more interested, now I had the family, but I remember that he always
said about the motorways that what we've got now and everything, he said it was
Mussolini who'd got all that started ...
He certainly put things in order, didn't he! And look - it's true you didn't read
about all those events, Mussolini didn't let them put them in, for example they killed
someone, all these thefts we read about, that's what Mussolini didn't allow, that I
remember ...
But he didn't let them put them in the papers, yet they happened just the same!
DELIA Yes, they happened, they happened a bit less, didn't they ... I don't know
now if it was good or bad, a lot of those basic things that we read about now, Mussolini
didn't allow.
Here the tendency to attribute the negative sides of Fascism to people other
than Mussolini makes its reappearance in an obvious way; this time not in the
version of the treacherous subordinates, but of the hated Germans, the ideal
scapegoat. But, above all, it is striking that the slogan of the day - 'clean-up5
(bonifica) takes on such concrete meanings, and is applied to everyday events.
Order, apart from meaning the suppression of crime, is understood in the
literal sense, with reference to traffic and transport. It is to concern of this
kind, with the events of everyday life, and its ability to influence them, that
Fascism owed a form of acceptance of its domination. This was legitimated in
the afterglow of social reforms, even if these touched aspects of the individual
lives which had little to do with the social order as a whole:
CORINNA LANZETTO (born in 1898) Yes but- let's be honest- he did do some fine
things - because he drained all the marshes, put on the 200 hours at the end of the year
[a bonus payment for the festive season (Trans.)] gave us extra holidays, took it upon
himself to make lots of nurseries for children and then, whoever appealed directly to
him - there was the secretary, and he could not avoid passing him on the plea. Like my
mother. My mother had a dog this big, ever so white, it was called Lilli - they spied on
us, they wanted her to remove it and my mum wouldn't. And so she wrote to the Duce
- straight to him - and the letter should have gone right to the Duce. Three days later
the animal protection people were here. Three days, wasn't it. Not four, three. I'm sure
about that. This dog, when he saw these men, began to bark and one of them said:
'Goodness me! You're well guarded by this dog!' She said: 'This is all I have; I've no
other pleasures, my dog keeps me company.' She didn't know who they were. 'I've
made an application to the Duce because I can't pay the tax,' because that dog was a
pedigree. They gave us a paper: 'You won't pay any tax. You could have written to us
earlier.' But she replied: 'No- not at all, because if I'd written before, you lot wouldn't
have done a thing. The Duce, instead, has helped me. The dog tax arrived and he's
letting me keep the dog.' Because the Duce he's done lots of fine things, but then he
always had crooks all around him ... At least that's how I see it anyway!
Stories such as this give credence to the legend of Mussolini's all-seeing eye,
as far as the minutiae of everyday life were concerned (in this way social
132 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
control and welfare go together). This is grafted onto the other image - that of
the traitor. Maria Cafasso: 'Mussolini betrayed and abandoned his comrades
at work because he was there at the paper,* then he became a turn-coat, that's
how he knew everything about everybody, he knew how to drive them out
from every corner because he had the addresses, he had friends ...'.
A recurrent motif in the positive appraisals of order is the almost universal
chorus-line about the freedom to go home at night, even very late, without
being disturbed (an indication of a typical short-circuit in the memory
between political regime and changed social situation). In addition, Fascism
is presented as normal, as if it changed nothing fundamental: 'If you kept to
your own path, the Fascists didn't bother you' (Eugenia Candellero);
'Fascism was there and we were here' (Giovanni Monti); 'I went into my
shell' (Giovanni Pastore); 'I tried to keep myself to myself rather' (Carlo
Gobetti); 'We lived a bit on the margin of things' (Fabiana).
It is necessary to ask, therefore, to what extent an acceptance of Fascism
meant accepting traditional values of order. In other words, was consent to
the regime a continuation of a consensus based on liberal-democratic values?
These included values such as the work ethic, respect for property and
authority, devotion to the family, sense of local identity and - in Piedmont -
affection or fervent loyalty towards the House of Savoy. If attention is paid
only to the potential for dissent in liberal values, one can no longer see their
traditional ambivalence, which is what Fascism extensively exploited, playing
on their conservative aspects.
It has been emphasised that the 'values of order, old and new, clerical and
secular' predispose the masses to subordination, obedience, and apolitical
attitudes. Fascism, on this level too, showed itself able to produce new
combinations 'out of pre-existing ways of being and thinking' which were
functional to its rule - 'family, the ethic of work and sacrifice, saving, self-help
and the self-made man - a whole series of traditional values and stereotypes
proved adaptable and were retrieved and incorporated into the Fascist system
of balances', encouraging its 'spread in molecular and diffused forms'.2
Acceptance of economic dependence and recognition of authority, Hork-
heimer has written, provide the basis for the acceptance of political leader-
ship, which, in turn, reinforces its sources of support. This process is also
found in authoritarian states. 3 In fact, this is really one of the points at which
the continuity between the capitalist system and Fascist regime becomes
clear.4 The ambiguity within the values of order is magnified by the fact that
they, like all ideologies concerning forms of behaviour, exist on the borders
between ideals and reality. Their meaning can change according to the
A good example of the ambivalence of certain values is the work ethic.
Fascism simultaneously exploited and defined the work ethic to exclude its
*Avanti!\ the Socialist Party paper.
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 133

emancipatory aspects and worsened working conditions.5 Hence a resistance

to Fascism which appealed to the progressive side of the work ethic would
have offered definite advantages, at least in certain circumstances.6
Religious affiliation too, in its everyday manifestations, could function in
the same double-edged manner. Antonio (born in Bianze, in 1920), who used
to regularly attend the oratory of Michele Rua from the age often, recalls that
the boys of 17 or 18 from the oratory often met the Fascists in the evening:
So sometimes you found the squads from the Sonzini* there like this: 'Where've you
been?,' they asked us, 'Where've you been?.' 'But we've been at the oratory.' 'You've
got to go to the Club as well!' 'Don't worry, we'll come to the Club as well! Eh,
otherwise we'd be in deep trouble, eh.' 'Are you going to cadet training? How old are
you?', they asked when you were 18 cadet training was compulsory, anyone who
was only 17 didn't have to go - 'Certainly we're going.' Yes, we went every
Two loyalties - it can happen in moments of crisis that one comes into
conflict with the other, but more often in everyday life the opposite occurs.7
They sustain one another; they combine opportunism, love of the quiet life,
and fear of changing things for the worse, which, taken together, constitute a
formidable force of inertia in favour of the status quo.

2 Differences in standards of living

Some testimonies need to be analysed in a different perspective; not for their
narrative devices, anecdotes or value judgements, but their overall descrip-
tion of the course followed by their narrator's life and work. Some of our
subjects, as we already noted in the first chapter, not only made a career for
themselves, but experienced the thirties as a time of promise.
CESARE (1899) Many people, even during Fascism, earned good salaries. For
example, when the song 'If I could have a thousand lire a month' (Sepotessi avere mille
lire al mese) came out, whoever earnt a thousand a month was already a man who made
a lot of money and this before ... not exactly 1940, but '36-' 37, before then it was good
money. When a worker earned 600 lire it was already a good wage, a clerk who had
already reached, I don't know, a sufficiently senior position, got 1,000, 1,200 lire, those
in the middle earned 6, 7, 800. I remember too that we lived on a sum that was more
than enough ... a family of three could live on ... 800 lire a month and live well,
including rent and everything. I, at that time, managed to earn a bit extra as well, but I
managed to save 200 lire a month and at that time I could also allow myself the luxury
of having a small 509 ... which I also used for work and then I also allowed myself little
trips on Sundays, and we didn't have many other opportunities because you even
worked the whole of Saturday. At the end of the period, you can say from '30 to '40,
they had instituted a sort of so-called 'Fascist Saturday' as they called it, and you only
worked until midday - one o'clock and the afternoon was free, but all said and done
you couldn't say that everyone had the means to do it, there were many who didn't
even get that!
* The neighbourhood club named after a Fascist martyr.
134 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

(Cesare, after immigrating from Veneto, had developed a strong sense of

identification with the Piedmontese and, following on from this, admiration
for the Agnelli family.) He pursued a career from apprentice blacksmith to
plasterer, then foundryman and later foreman in an engineering company
with 250 workers (after attending three technical night schools) and, lastly,
manager of the same factory. Other workers, too, had similar careers. Angelo
Sargian (the 'encyclopaedic' worker at Lancia in 1918), born in 1897,
attended evening classes at the Professional Institute and in 1924 got the
engineering diploma for technicians; in 1930 he was work-team leader and
subsequently became section-foreman. At the beginning of the Second World
War, he was works-foreman in a medium-sized engineering company.
Giovanni Pastore (born in 1904) had a difficult start in life - losing his father,
he had to help his mother doing domestic out-work on military supplies; he
did an apprenticeship in engineering workshops, then at the Fonderie
Subalpine; he, too, attended the Professional Institute in the twenties and
became a draftsman. He worked as such in various establishments including
Michelin, Motori Aviazione and Riv, reaching a good position thanks to his
ceaseless application: Tor many years I worked on Sundays at home [and
during the week] I went at six in the morning until eight or nine at night. Ah,
you made a pile!' In the second half of the thirties, the comfortable
circumstances and security brought him by work enabled him to resist
attempts at intimidation by his capo-casa.* (In fact, his decision to keep 'the
button-hole forever virgin' [i.e. without political badges] would not have been
enough had not a 'good friend', who 'had gone all the way to the right', and
enjoyed a position of influence in the Fascist Party, intervened.)
Since we do not have quantitative data and we are limiting ourselves in this
chapter to investigating points arising from the testimonies worth further
investigation, we want to do nothing more than advance some analytical
hypotheses. One is that the favourable conditions in which some sections of
workers lived and worked in the thirties, and the range of differentiation
within the working class in the factories, might have acted as factors
encouraging a sense of order. This certainly does not mean that they
supported the regime, but the regime itself was careful to monitor workers'
reactions to changes in the standard of living before launching its propa-
It can be said that, strictly speaking, the three paths in life outlined above
lead out of the working class. Nevertheless, it is important that they were able
to climb up the social scale, even if they were the exception, because at least
they had a role as a point of comparison for other social strata. Their existence
supported the Fascist idea that it was possible to better oneself. In other
instances, relative well being was not due to ambition in pursuit of a career,
but to the new forms of organisation of production installed in the thirties.
* Fascist-appointed warden.
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 135

The tremendous polemics provoked throughout the decade by the intro-

duction of time-and-motion men and by the removal of the foreman from his
position as master are well-known. But the situation was not characterised
exclusively by de-skilling related to 'machino-facture'; this was accompanied
by a different phenomenon - the demand for workers with new specialised
skills, such as those responsible for repairing and adjusting the new multi-
purpose machines.9 Progress, above all in engineering, depended on the
ability to respond to the new imperatives of work-organisation.
Technical and professional education was not always able to teach these
skills; rather, it seems that it was the combination of education and factory
training that allowed those with initiative and ability to acquire the necessary
competence. This was the case with Federico (born in 1921, he is one of those
we saw who 'knew how to amuse themselves'), who started at Fiat's as a
15-year-old trainee:
The trainee workers ... once did a bit of practical work, a bit of theory, when I started
there, there was only workshops at Lingotto. They took these trainee workers who'd
already been at secondary school - twice a year at the time - new ones started, they put
the trainees in the press shop, tool-room and aircraft shop. I started in the tool-room,
did a bit of everything, worked as a turner, then from tool-room, I moved to
maintenance and I've been in maintenance ever since.
Well, so what grade did you reach?
FEDERIGO Yes, I was in the top. First I was ... in grade 1, then later, before I left
they put me in the 'super', so I moved to 'super' and when I left I was in the very top
Others had similar conditions as regards pay and job security, such as a
great many maintenance workers. Attilio Gritella (born 1903) was an
electrical maintenance worker at Lingotto from 1925 (after doing three years
of night school):
As I lived with my aunt, instead of going home, stopped by for a meal at the Fiat
dopolavoro, you ate well enough and it wasn't that it was expensive, eh ... And then
there was canoeing, there was bowls, there was tennis, and there was the theatre, too,
the theatre was free. You sang the old songs, didn't you, it wasn't that it was modern
but you got alongfine... Well, you danced - the picnic with the boat - then there was
someone who had a gramophone, you used to dance, or an accordion ... Eh, there were
some good little parties ...
And was it only Fiat employees that could go?
Yes, but, for example, sisters, lovers,fianceescame along too. Oh, but you got tired
out, didn't you! From morning onwards, in the sun ... In the evening the eyes started
closing, sometimes you went to the cinema but couldn't keep the eyes open!
These privileged conditions, which lasted even after marriage (1932) and
until the birth of the first child (1936), were all the greater when compared
with others' difficulties. For example, Gritella recalls the situation of those
workers who were repeatedly made redundant and taken on again by Fiat,
even over the space of a few days, and all as a cost-saving measure. In
136 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
addition, even a state of well-being, such as that reached by Gritella, was not
only precarious but left little room for manoeuvre in the face of problems
arising from the birth and education of the children, which ultimately made it
necessary for him to take on a second job:
However, then, when I had children, the wage alone wasn't enough any more, was it,
because I had four three sons and a daughter. One is a technician ... then there's one
that's an engineer [...] the other's also a technician, they did night school [...] then
I've also got a daughter who's been at Fiat's - personnel department, and had a job,
then she got herself two children and's been at home and that's it... But to get them an
education I arrived home at 2.30,1 had the bag ready, off to the other jobs ... I did that
for a number of years, eh!
The working class was therefore differentiated internally along the lines of
age, skill, family social position. Bearing in mind changes of job within and
between sectors on the part of many of the men and women interviewed (see
appendix 7), horizontal mobility seems to have stayed at high levels for a long
time. The advantages had by some in certain periods of their lives stand out
against a background of pitiless factory disciplines, health hazards at work,
and harsh conditions imposed by the employers. But women, who were
mostly in unskilled jobs, had an especially hard time. Maria Cafasso, who had
decided to emigrate from Bianze because of her father's dismissal, and who
worked at Fiat Lingotto from 1924, said:
They made me redundant three times, as I told you, I cried, the foreman said: 'Maria'
I went to the office, when they sent for you one at a time when they dismissed you,
didn't they - 'Why are you crying?' 'Because tomorrow morning I won't be coming to
work any more!'
I'd been at home for 13 days, someone came just to call me, for the job, you see that
person took an interest, because in the other cases like that, I don't know, I only know
mine, if they did that for me they'll have done the same for the others. Anyway ... I . . .
the employment card had almost expired, I was late, because my sick note was already
15 days old ... Anyway I go there and say: 'Present and ready.' 'Yes, very good!
Listen, we've found a job,' he says, 'but it's no longer in the old shop, but go along to
thefinishingshop, go to thefifthfloorto thefinishingshop.' That's where you washed
the windows of the car, thefinishedcar, you got it ready to go off then, for delivery ...
they delivered it. And so up there we were eight women in all, in the whole shop which
was big, one here and one there, you were better off with the ... whereas before we were
all women, on top of one another there ... do you know how tiring the work is? It was a
terrible place because now the polishers do it, but then you did it by hand - the
metal-sheet, they put on a first coat of paint, then you rubbed it down with
pumice-stone and sandpaper, everyone had her bit and that's where you rubbed.
Maria Gallo in 1938 worked at Snia Viscosa:
You worked in reasonable conditions there because being silk material it had to be
clean, clean above all else, then, at that time, discipline was strict because you didn't
question a thing, the foreman said, eh, you couldn't eat, if they found you with a piece
of bread near a machine [...] People came from far away, for example, I got up at 4.30,
who wants to eat then? And then maybe at 8 you'd have eaten, but you always needed
to ... you ate all the same, but if they caught you, you gotfined,you got fined ... Ah,
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 137
nothing, nothing, nothing to be done about it . . . and then every now and then, you
needed to go and wash your hands because the silk . . . and then there was the
discipline which - if you broke a thread you had to make a weaver's knot, if they caught
you rolling on the thread without making the knot... the first time, they fined you, the
second time they gave you a second warning, the third time they sacked you. But there
was little use in protesting, some Internal Commission! Nothing to be done, nothing at
all! You couldn't protest there. And when you were at home sick, they didn't pay you
for the first three days . . . not a thing . . . and then it could last for a fortnight at the
most, because otherwise, there was a check on the house every day . . . every single day,
eh . . . every single day. Look, when they operated on my mum who was taken bad with
fibroids . . . I asked for permission - two days off- to be at the hospital, to help her and
when I asked the factory foreman, he answered: 'Wha' yer wan' t'stay 'ome fer, yer
oprating on 'er yerself?' I was there for five years and more . . . I never missed
half-an-hour and I never once asked to stay at home and I was never even at home sick!
And that time I just couldn't do anything else, and he said: 'Wha' yer wan' t'stay 'ome
fer, yer oprating on 'er yerself?' . . . I'll always remember that Radetzsky. We used to
call him Garibaldi, Garibaldi we called him . . . because he was a big lump like this,
wasn't he, with a head that seemed a billiard-ball it had such a shine! We just called
him Garibaldi - God what a man! He was here, there and everywhere... ohhh! He was
a pest!
The worst working and living conditions were suffered by the common
labourers (or the general labourer, operaio d'ordine), as they preferred to call
them, 10 especially when they were single immigrants. Olinto Bongi (born in
1900) had arrived from Fucecchio in the early twenties so as not to be a
burden on his widowed mother and so as to be able, instead, to send help to
support the three younger children. Thanks to an acquaintance from his
village, he got into Fiat's 'on 3 January 1926 and I was there until 31
December 1961 [...] Just think, I was the one to beat the lot, I was an
unbroken 25 years on the line, there was no-one else who lasted o u t . . . ' Bongi
first lived in lodgings at an old woman's ('a good person' who, however, was
later to be taken to hospital where he was to visit her regularly). At that time
he used to be in the attic, where he spent the least time possible. At certain
times, he, too, was forced to take a second job because of the wage cuts
resulting from the Bedaux system. In his case it was made worse by errors in
calculating his wages which went uncorrected for some months. Once over the
worst period (about 1928-9), things settled down for Bongi, who had the basic
necessities: 'and so the money they gave me I sent to my mother, and what
remained I kept for myself for going to the pictures once a week and getting
by. Ah, on Sunday, if I'd the money, I went to the cinema and if not, if it was
summer, I went for a breather in the gardens'. His situation got decidedly
better only with his transfer from Lingotto to Mirafiori and with the onset of
the Second World War.
By comparison, the situation of other workers, such as the skilled, was not
necessarily so very hard. Giovanni Steffanino (born in 1906) did 'every kind of
work, changed workshops, machines, the bench, all the jobs of a skilled
workman, in fact- all jobs could easily be done, because they weren't difficult,
138 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
I've always learnt everything that they taught me5. He can say that he has
never suffered serious financial difficulties because he belonged to a family of
workers long resident in the city. So he did not even notice a mistake in the
calculation of his piece-rate, even if it was over a shorter period than that
affecting Olinto Bongi: 'Fiat's never short-changed us . . . As for me, they
made a mistake over . . . I think 4.50 lire, the month before I received
notification, that'll be, on the piece-rate that'll be . . . they gave me the 4.50
back . . . I didn't even notice ...'.
The testimonies, together with other sources, point to a social differenti-
ation within the Turin working class of the thirties which belies misleading
pictures of uniformity. It is true that this diversity stands out against a
background of deprivation and hardship documented by many studies, at
least for the first half of the thirties.11 Numerous indications testify that this
continued to be the case for broad strata of workers into the second half of the
decade, and, in some instances, their situation deteriorated. Discontent over
the cost of living, work-discipline, fines, and cuts in real wages arose
periodically between 1936 and 1938, even among Fiat workers,12 who were
already comparatively privileged. However, the differentiation within the
working class could not but be significant, given the deep transformations,
particularly in patterns of consumption, that had been taken shape over the
preceding decades. Such disparities were sure to have political implications.13
There are ideas here for more than one research project. But, for our purposes,
we are interested only in recalling that when there are serious disparities
between people advantageous material circumstances can serve to uphold
social order, quite independently of'feelings' for or against a political regime.

3 Mediations
The testimonies we have corroborate many arguments regarding social
'consent' already accepted in the historiography - the interest of sections of
workers in small material improvements, such as holiday-camps for the
children (Maria Rollino), the discount on the honeymoon-trip to Rome
(Mirella), medical provision obtained through the help of the Fascist trade
union (Maria Gallo). On the other hand, the classic issues of dissent also
emerge in a stereotyped fashion - the compulsory referendums, the Catholic
youth associations, the racial persecution, the war. Lastly, despite the
processes of condensation and association typical of memory, the majority of
the subjects distinguish clearly between early Fascism and the regime
established in the thirties. Attilio Gritella: 'The Fascists early on, when they
were on the way up, stopped at nothing, and then, afterwards, they began -
they calmed down, didn't they? It's not that they always did things like that.'
It is doubtless of some interest to use oral sources to provide back-up and add
detail to the existing body of historical work. But we are now looking to see
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 139
whether the testimonies give us pointers towards further research - something
new in relation to the issues handled in the mainstream histories and
interpretations of Fascism.
The testimonies help us look anew at the terms consent/dissent and their
application to everyday life under Fascism. They reveal a world of mediations
connecting the subjects and Fascist authority that allow the latter's domin-
ation to be simultaneously accepted and modified. The family is a key site and
agent in such processes, owing to its persistent ambiguity in relation to power
- its ability, that is, to generate, in turn, acceptance and conflict.14 Let us look
for the signs of this in our collection of testimonies. Remember old Dogliero,
and his wisecrack at the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution? Well, it is so as
not be a 'nuisance' to his father in the face of the Fascist authorities, that the
son accepts the discipline of the service in the premilitare. The 18-year-old
Dogliero was a deserter from parades on a great many Saturdays because he
preferred to go and play bowls; or, since he went unwillingly, he arrived
wearing only a part of the uniform - 'Once with the uniform-jacket and
civilian-trousers and, instead, another time with the uniform-trousers and an
ordinary jacket' - until the father was reproached by the Federal Secretary
and Giovanni decided to behave himself: 'You can see I sometimes made
myself a nuisance to my father.'
Thus, the family not only puts pressure on the parents out of their love for
the children, but the same also happens in reverse. Very often it is the women
who find themselves playing the role of mediators, sometimes accepting, and
at other times evading, the obligations imposed by the regime. Luigia
Varusco (whom we will remember for her pride in her work and high level of
political awareness) managed to get her son work at Stipel, thanks to a
Yes, but they want his Fascio membership-card, don't they! And so what's to be done? I
left, I went myself to the centre in via Bogino where the Fascio was, my legs were
shaking, I'm telling you this absolutely frankly. I go there - and he says: 'What do you
want?' - 'I would like a membership-card for my son.' - 'Eh, why didn't your son
register first?' - 'No', I say, 'It's not that he didn't want to register, he went before to
register [hardly true], but he was under ... he had to go and do military service and
they told us, when you return home from service we'll give you the card.' So they made
me pay, I don't know any more if it's 5 lire, they gave me the receipt, my son went to
work with the receipt, the card they've still got it there now! Because I never went to
get it!
Rosa (1903) bargained at such lengths on her husband's behalf that the
Fascist authorities ended up turning a blind eye:
My husband, who was in the forces, had to join the Party. And he didn't want to join
under any circumstances. 'I'm not letting that "fag-end" near me,' he said [referring
to the Fascist badge], 'I'd rather go away, I don't know where I'll go, but I'll not do
that. But why do they have to shove that stuff at me when I don't want to be a Fascist.'
I said: 'Well, I'll go.' I don't remember what that Club was called ... I go along there
140 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
and say: 'I received this letter ...' 'Of course,' they say, 'Your husband ...' I said:
'Don't forget my husband's got malaria, he's very fragile, and tomorrow, I don't know,
you send him a paper to go to the parades' (because then there was those to attend).
'He can't make it because he's hardly ever well'. He was the fragile kind, he wasn't sick
but paleish, and maybe he gave that impression. 'Yes, but we're not calling him to the
parades,' they said, 'but only to join the Party.' I said: 'Well, all right, I'll see what I
can do.' That's it! Me, I always came up with some rubbish, some excuse, and left.
'Bazzani, Lucio Bazzani', that's what the Club was called. Another time they sent word
to me to call again. I went three or four times and I never made my husband a member
- all right? That was my doing.
The most interesting cases are those in which the role of mediation played
by the women involves finding a modus vivendi which, at least in part, conserves
anti-fascist identity and family dignity, and at the same time accepts the
inevitable. In this way, Arturo Gunetti's mother saved her son's educational
prospects, which had been compromised by the father's refusal to make him a
member of the Opera Nazionale Balilla. Arturo, the only non-member among
the pupils, failed the third year final examination at primary school, although
he had good marks during the year. The teacher was known as a rampant
Fascist who 'commanded all the balilla* in the school'. Arturo's mother,
through a neighbour, got in touch with the headmistress, with whom she
established a secret understanding on a mutual dislike of the Fascists. The
headmistress advised her to get her child to do a month-and-a-half of
gardening during the summer holidays to win round the teacher who 'was
crazy about gardening'. At the end of a month-and-a-half, the mother
convinced the husband to give the 5 lire for membership of the Balilla. The
teacher, placated, corrected the school-report, and Arturo got moved up. The
agreement reached was to create family problems, especially for the father
vis-a-vis the relations (Arturo's parents were cousins of the Briccas, persecuted
by Fascism for their part in the reconstruction of the Communist Party):
When I used to arrive dressed as a balilla, he used to say: 'Do us a favour, go and take it
off straightaway.' Once he was left feeling bad because Bricca, the father, was there -
he'd come to our house - he saw me in that idiotic uniform, my father told him: 'Look,
don't hold it against me, because otherwise he wouldn't go to school here anymore,
would he!' Bricca - the father - Bricca the father, the old one, no? He saw me, by
chance, I got back from the Thursday parade, the same old one which you had to go to
in the mornings, he was at our home at about midday, I got in, he was hurt seeing me
like that, my father said to him: 'Look, go on, let it be, because it's getting too much for
my nerves, but if I hadn't... hadn't got him to join, I couldn't have sent him to school,
apart from the fact that money-wise I couldn't have ... privately.' In the second place,
he said: 'I could hardly keep him ignorant', and anyway he says to me: 'Go and get
changed at once.'
In this incident we witness the workings of mechanisms well known to
anthropology, not only the activation of social networks (e.g. the neighbour)
in moments of personal crisis, but the reaching of compromises between on
* Fascist organisation for children aged 815 and youth aged 15-18.
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 141
the one hand the family system with all its traditions, and on the other the
Fascist school system.15 It is a question of giving way in order to safeguard the
son's future, but of doing so with dignity. The father can end up being forced
to acquiesce in the same way as the mother is finally won round by the
headmistress, thanks to their shared anti-fascism which makes acceptance
seem momentary and tactical. One sees the maintenance of an ideal, the
interaction at work between oppositional identity and a form of pragmatic
A similar process is seen in another case, recounted by Francesco Correggia
(born in Turin in 1900, and worker in different engineering factories before
finally going to Fiat's). This man managed to avoid taking the membership-
card of the Fascist trade union thanks to the intervention of his wife, who went
in person to speak to a family acquaintance of some standing within the union.
It is hard to avoid the fact that in these stories it is possible to get out of a
public commitment to Fascism only by recourse to a private commitment.
What we have is a reciprocal transaction between dominator and dominated
in the process (much observed by anthropologists) whereby small networks of
social relations are subsumed in the political sphere. 16 The classic model of
such a situation, despite many variations, is that defined as 'encapsulation'.
According to this model, the face-to-face and small-scale political communi-
ties are by now almost everywhere encapsulated in larger political structures
(e.g. nations) in a manner characterised by lack of direct interaction between
people and incompatibility between the values of the two types of structures.
Encapsulation is only superseded by integration when the lack of communi-
cation and cultural disparities are overcome.
The hypothesis that predominantly working-class local communities were
subsumed by the Fascist regime in the thirties, in such a way as to require
mediators to fill the gap in communication arising from the political and
cultural disparities, is one that fits our case. The essence of the mediator's
role, unlike that of a recognised leader in a community, is to have a foot in
both camps and to oil the wheels of bargaining and compromise. The
divergence in values between the two systems means that the mediator, unlike
the leader, is despised, as we have seen in the case of the haughty little Fascist
in Maria Gallo's account. But his role is indispensable because the interaction
between the systems has come about through voluntary acts - individual
choices as to whether (and what) to accept or reject.
It will be clear by now that the term 'acceptance' does not entail support,
devotion or consent understood in a psychological sense. We are pointing out
that Fascism adapted to Italian society, but also that the latter adapted to
Fascism; that is, that individuals, in their day-to-day choices, took account of
the demands made on them by the regime, and the resources it offered,
assessing in turn what it was opportune to accept and what not. Certainly,
this took place within the margins allowed, but it left not insignificant room
142 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

for manoeuvre. 17 We have already seen the line drawn by Maria Gallo in
relation to the Fascio - bureaucratic help, yes, but financial help, no. For
others, the line of demarcation shifts (as is explained by a person who wants to
remain anonymous for the purposes of this quotation):
There were seven in my wife's family ... and they were always helped by the Fascio.
But they were difficult... a family which took no interest in things ... They're people
that would rather die, and that's that - prepared to moan, but never ready to fight,
never ready tofight.But it was really a family helped out by the Fascio, they gave them
tokens and they went and got meat, got whatever, everything except wine, because the
father was always drunk.
The individuals, in turn, assess the limits on bargaining and the limits to
which transactions can be pushed. It is not that they are unaware of the
political implications; it is the relative separation between political and family
spheres which allows room for manoeuvre. In fact, some explicitly take
account of the political implications of opportunism motivated by material
considerations (the 'bread-ticket5 motive (tessera del pane)) in their actions, and
reject that option. Adelina refuses, even in abject poverty, to take coal from a
uniformed Fascist; Carlo Gobetti prefers not to have a steady job so as to
avoid having to take the membership-card; Emilio does not ask for the
gift-parcel offered by the Fascist unions to large families.
Then, there are those - and the others know it too - who have not accepted
mediations. Their example shows the possibility of choosing not to stoop to
compromise at whatever price. Let us remember from among our subjects the
choices made by Benigno Bricca, who lost his sight in Fascist prisons, and
Luigi Giano, his comrade in the Communist Party and in prison, who
summed up his life between the wars in the following way:
In '23 I started at Fiat Lingotto and in '261 joined the Party, while in those years there
I had, I was already active inside Fiat's. Then after that, I suppose, came the
emergency laws, so I worked at Fiat's until the end of'29. In '29 I was arrested and at
the trial ... the trial ended the same year, and I was sentenced to ten years and six
months, no? And I servedfiveyears, with the amnesty and the pardon. Once out, they
made me do anotherfive-and-a-halfyears under special police surveillance, in Turin
as before. In the meanwhile, I was arrested several times, once for Mussolini's visit,
another time for the King's visit, then another for the outbreak of war in '40. Then I
was arrested another time with Badoglio and so it went on until the Liberation came.

Instead, for many others, a series of mediations allowed the possibility of

choosing compromise and partial acceptance. Who are the mediators? Not
just the women, as we have seen, but also the so-called 'good Fascists'. 'There
was a humanitarian Fascist type', says Arturo Gunetti, bringing to mind one
Fascist who 'did nothing evil', but instead saved a lot of people. Stories are
told of mediators in the strict sense of the word, that is, people in positions of
minor power who made use of it to do good - capi-casa (house wardens) ,Jiduciari
di reparto (shop-floor agents nominated by the Fascist unions) and army
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 143

officers. These turned a blind eye, gave a helping hand, failed to report people
out of friendship, goodness of heart or self-interested calculation:
This thing of the capo-casa, who practically had to be an informer ... there were those
janitors like ours, who didn't give a damn (Arturo).
One brother of mine celebrated May Day [that is to say he deliberately didn't go to
work that day] but the commissar [of Barriera di Nizza] was a man with a heart of gold
and saved him (Rosa).
Otherwise, the mediation involving compromise is the work of corrupt
Fascists - it is petty corruption which helped people get by, even in slightly
irregular situations. For example, Visca came back from Latin America
where he had emigrated when Fascism came to power (to avoid taking the
membership-card he worked for the municipality) and stayed for six years. He
found work as a building worker for a year before then getting into Grandi
Mo tori in 1930, or thereabouts:
But you need the membership-card, I went and had a look, I asked two or three of
them down there at the trade union building where there are those counters, one with
glasses, he was a hunch-back, looked at me: 'What do you want?' I told my story, how
I'd been in Turin from '14, then gone away for six years because I'd been ill, come back
again and how I'd found a job where they'd only given me it if I'd got a Party card.
'Cost yer 10 lire ...' I gave him 10 lire and he gave me my card. And I went to work ...
In reality one would need to talk about both those with the specific role of
mediators, and others who had to improvise this part in certain situations. As
for the first category, there certainly existed networks (for example, in relation
to getting a job at Fiat's) which predated Fascism - mediators known in the
neighbourhood who, for a small payment, put a person in touch with someone
inside the factory. In the inter-war period, these networks simply adjusted to
the new conditions. They did not always come to be subsumed by Fascist
domination; on the contrary, sometimes they allowed people to elude it. A
subject recounts getting a job at Fiat's without Fascist trade-union member-
ship, thanks to a tenant in the same building as his brother ('he was on the
same landing, he was a clerk, a secretary at Fiat's'). Olinto Bongi managed
the same thing, due to an acquaintance who came from his village, and who
was well-off, the secretary to an engineer at Fiat's. Then Eugenia Candellero
was taken on thanks to an uncle who knew someone in the Fascist trade union.
Starace, himself, the secretary to the PNF, recognised in his memoranda to
Party officials that 'the existence of preferential treatment is a fact of life, and
it is useless to renew the attempt to eradicate it', even if Tor members of
Fascist associations linked to the Party . . . it is a different matter' (8 February
1933).18 Salvatorelli and Mira have pointed out the corrupting consequences
of Fascism's ability to exploit traditional forms of adaptation - the gap
between appearance and reality is widened, further diminishing the scant
respect for the law, and the weak sense of civic responsibility that are serious
144 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

defects in the national character. 19 But this analysis is only to be accepted in

part. If, in some respects, Fascism accentuated the negative aspects of
clientelismo [patronage] in others, Fascism was conditioned and modified by it.
In fact, ultimate control ended up being in the appeal to the values of
moderation of the small community. It is possible that in many cases the
clientelist system was relatively independent of the political system, all the
time adapting itself to it with a certain flexibility. Related to this notion, we
have the testimony of Martino, the man who based his identity on the decision
to become a Fascist in order to oppose the violence of the reds and
(subsequently) the injustices perpetrated by the 'bosses'. Capo-casa in the
Fascist period, he lost the role of mediator after the war because of his
consistency, while others maintained it due to a political volte-face:
My work-team leader (caposquadra) who, among other things, had been caposquadra of
the '18 November' militia, the Fiat Fascist militia, suddenly in '43, suddenly changed
sides so as to save himself, he became section-foreman and made a career for himself;
became deputy works-foreman because he took out a membership-card in the
Communist Party.
Similar continuities, if they occurred with regularity, would suggest a
certain capacity on the part of the system of mediation to defuse, control and
distribute the different demands coming from the centres of political power.

4 Public/private
What we have glimpsed of the relationship between society and regime in
dealing with mediations between dominator and dominated supports the
hypothesis that Italian Fascism was an imperfect totalitarianism. The
regime's ability to fulfil its totalitarian promise can be seen to have been
limited, by its use, for the purposes of adaptation, of networks of social
relationships on the borderline between everyday life and the political sphere,
in similar ways as occurred with the institutions of Monarchy and Church (for
which this analysis was originally propounded). Above all, the persistence of
such networks shows that, in the Italian case, an assumption about its nature
of totalitarianism was not borne out - that is, it did not achieve the 'isolation
and absence of normal social relations', the 'atomisation and individuali-
sation of modern mass society' (Arendt) essential to the formation of features
such as terror and the charisma of the leader. However, if the problem is to
show concretely, and not via abstract models, in what ways Italian society (or
sections of that society) were fitted into a totalitarian dynamic, our sources
provide other suggestions as to how advanced, relatively, the process was in
Italy ('relatively' with respect to other countries, such as Germany;
'advanced' with respect to the initial situation of little or no integration of the
masses into Nation and State). Italian Fascism also made attempts, not
without some success, to destroy private life, and to create situations in which
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 145
people could not trust anything or anyone, thereby eating into the social fabric
at numerous points, and poisoning or breaking down relationships of soli-
darity. 20
However, to deal with the problem using our sources, we must take a step
backwards, focussing on lines of inquiry that we have, up till now, overlooked.
In the first place, there are the attenuating circumstances and excuses
employed in self-defence by those arrested for offences of the type examined in
chapter 2.
It is very rare in the statements of the accused to find admissions of having
acted out of political or economic motives. More often attempts are made to
prolong the joke-situation, transforming what has been said in more or less
ingenuous ways. Often it is simply excuses about having said things 'as a
joke', 'out of light-heartedness', 'to lark around' that are used. They are then
accepted by the authorities and translated, with the stigma implied by
phrases such as 'out of stupid tomfoolery' or 'stupid exhibitionism', without,
that is, referring to political and hence subversive intent. But the most
recurrent excuses by far fall under the category of those claiming to be found
when not fully in control of themselves for a variety of reasons (hence the
statement about joking). The most common is undoubtedly drunkenness,
causing 'loss of awareness', and subsequent amnesia. More than one person,
'questioned on sobering up, declared not remembering a thing about what
had happened'. 21
Drunkenness establishes a stereotyped form of behaviour (talking and
shouting uninhibitedly while wandering around public places) which allows
the expression of dissent. It is a delimited space which many more or less
automatically take advantage of. Forms of behaviour which resemble drunk-
enness are equally excusable, despite reprimands. Many excuses stress that
events took place in an inexplicable, trance-like state - the accused declare
having acted 'without realising it', 'unable to account for himself, 'suffering
from dizziness brought on by illness', 'being miles away and distracted'.
Other recognised attenuating circumstances follow the same path by
admitting to the accused's almost animal condition, whether temporary or
permanent; an 'individual of little education and intelligence' he had acted
when in 'the grip of suffering and moral crisis, caused by after-effects of
wounds sustained in war5; he acted 'without taking account of the seriousness
of the matter' (worker at Snia Viscosa, 1936). Another, after saying to some
fellow-workers that the 'increases arrived at were small and that protest was
called for - if only a few protested they would be arrested and so it was
necessary for many people to protest', happened 'not to be in complete
possession of his mental faculties from having undergone an operation on the
cranium when aged six' (worker at Lancia, 1937); a 15-year-old girl who
worked at the Cottonificio Valle Susa, who had written graffiti in the lavatory
against the war, was judged to be 'under the influence of the family and work
146 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
environment', although she 'insisted on having acted spontaneously and at
her own behest5 (1940).
Serious misfortunes could be responsible for provoking regression into these
irrational states of mind: 'the recent death of his wife who left him with charge
of two children5 (maintenance worker at the Farina works, March 1939);
malaria contracted in Africa (coal porter, 1938); and plain 'not feeling well5.
The lapse into wickedness or stupidity is contrasted with habitual good
conduct - merits of war-service or numerous offspring, membership in person
and through the wife or children of mass Fascist organisations. All in all, a
large number of people, anxious to escape heavier penalties, admitted that the
verbal acts of rebelliousness or everyday political talk were nothing but the
manifestation of 'natural5 forms of behaviour which occur when a person is
not entirely himself. 'Natural 5 , therefore, in this context, means an unthink-
ing, almost biological condition.22
Why should we be interested in looking at the subjective by-product of
police surveillance? For the reason that these acknowledgements wrung from
people have affinities with another spontaneously used stereotype recurrent in
the oral testimonies - the declaration of having remained anti-fascist 'on the
inside5, 'at heart5, even if forms of behaviour were guided by the spirit of
compromise and opportunism. As Angelo Sargian says on this matter: 'the
fire lay smouldering under the ashes5 (ilfuoco covava sotto le ceneri). The fact of
there being the ashes - the forms of acquiescence and silence - is not,
therefore, denied, but their existence is justified with reference to the fire. In
mirror-fashion, the regime forces the accused to drive the manifestations of
their anti-fascism inward into the sphere of the intimate, natural and
shameful, which people naturally fall back on out of human weakness once
they let go of themselves. A psychological conception of dissent is thereby
arrived at by both sides.
The outcome of the agreement is the admission of two areas - the public or
external one of acceptance, and the private or inner one of rebellion. The
specificity of Fascist domination comes from shifting the boundaries between
the two areas. It extends the sphere of public life, which is to say the area
under surveillance, so that it encompasses everything from the street-song to
drunkenness, from the train-conversation to the neighbour's squabble and
people's private social life. But we are, above all, interested in the cases in
which the population actively participates in the extension of the public
sphere. This can happen when some individuals decide to break the ties of
neighbourliness or solidarity at work and, out of self-interest, engage in spying
or spreading false rumours (two phenomena often confused, given the ease of
reporting and exaggerating everyday conversations under a regime based on
suspicion). Here are some examples of such behaviour:
In September 1939 the wife of a squadrista, visiting the janitor's to pay the first
instalment of the heating, found the janitor's son there [a worker at Fiat's] talking
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 147

about the current political situation. He maintained that he would soon be recalled
being an alpino [soldier of the mountain troop (Trans.)] on leave. When the lady
exclaimed: 'You are lucky to be an alpino because you will make a good guard for us5
[...] he replied: 'Given a war us alpinVW. go over to the other side.' [Atfirstthe lady was
in agreement with her husband in denouncing this and other remarks made by the
worker-cum-fl/jfrmo, but later she presented herself of her own free will at the police
headquarters to state that she had misunderstood the words and freed the accused of
all blame.]
Both the denunciation and the retraction tell us of the conflicts, or, at least,
of the personal animosities momentarily politicised and then brought back
into the traditional course of neighbourly relationships.
In March 1940 a boilermaker at Lancia and his wife, who was also a worker, told the
Commissariat of Public Security of Borgo San Paolo offinding'a defiled effigy of the
Duce' stuck to the outer wall of their house in 21 via Volvera. The portrait was stuck on
the landing next to the lavatory shared by three families.
The boilermaker insinuated that 'the person responsible for the ignominious gesture
could be the janitor and the administrators of the building, his only enemies in the
block', who had acted 'out of hatred for a Fascist'.
The detailed inquiries dramatically reversed the situation, showing that it was a
matter of a frame-up by the married couple to get rid of the janitors and the
administrators, who had decided to evict them for being 'slanderers and
troublemakers, undisciplined, arrogant and overbearing in behaviour.'
The two, who had 'self-interestedly insinuated political motivation into a
thoroughly civil case and into purely private questions', were committed to confino [a
form of internal exile under police surveillance].
In August 1941 an engineering worker at Fiat's at Lingotto was denounced to the
police headquarters by means of a signed letter as a 'vile slanderer and propagator of
false and tendentious stories against the PNF and especially against Benito Mussolini,
whom he publicly accuses of high treason and responsibility, together with Rodolfo
[sic!] Hitler, for the current war'.
The denunciation referred to an episode in April - the two had bet a packet of
'Macedonia' cigarettes in a dairy shop 'concerning the length of time it would take for
Crete to fall to the armies of the Axis'. The denunciation was resolved with a simple
warning, because it became clear that it was dictated by 'rancour and mean-minded
vindictiveness', as thefive-monthdelay also showed. The plaintiff intended to drive
the engineering worker away from his ex-lover, a woman described as 'aged 59,
unmarried, propertied and well-ofF, who had taken up with his rival.23
The phenomena, of which we have seen some examples in this section, are
of two orders:
the acceptance of an anti-fascism relegated to an inner force, pictured in
biological or psychological terms. This is sometimes employed as ideal
compensation for actual compromises, and, at other times, acts as a
basis for cultural affirmation, linked to a Utopia of a world turned
the employment of political suspicion for personal ends which, tearing
apart the social fabric and upsetting the old networks, represents a
148 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

successful Fascist attempt to influence and subject everyday life to the

exigencies of power.
Neither of the phenomena is entirely comprehensible in terms of the
'automatic alignment of individual to public interests', 24 which is where
Fascist law differs from liberal law. In fact, they show that politics, with the
loss of public citizenship, remains available for private use; that is, these cases
point not only to a process of subsumption of the private in the public, but also
a subsumption of the political in the personal.
To put it another way, the problem of the degree of totalitarianism in Italy
in the thirties cannot be resolved as far as the phenomena of everyday life
examined here are concerned if reference is made only to the ideological
dimension of the subordination of the private to the public sphere (or even the
dissolution of the former in the latter). 25 In reality, the process leads rather, as
we have seen in passing, to a shift in the boundaries between public and
private - the private is invaded and made public, and its space restricted; the
split between the two is accentuated. In fact, it is well known that the very
concept of public order was reformulated by the Fascist regime:
In the new law [T.U. P.S. 6.11.1926] public order does not have the old, merely
negative meaning but signifies a peaceful life, free from disturbance by the positive
regulations, political, social and economic, that constitute the essence of the regime.
Whoever threatens this peaceful development must immediately be rendered harm-
At the same time, political convictions, at least as far as the 'common'
individuals who make up the 'masses' are concerned, are driven back into the
private sphere as if they were 'natural' phenomena.
However, understanding the intricacy of such processes in everyday life
calls for further reflection, made possible only in the light of a historical and
theoretical definition of the relationship between public and private in
modern society. Fascism abolished the public sphere as a site in which private
individuals met in public to confront the State, and did so by abolishing
parties, free press, the public accountability of government, and every free
expression of public opinion.27 Thus a process different from the public
take-over of the private sphere was also set in motion; that is, a short-circuit
took place between the public and the private, because what remained of the
public sphere was driven underground. The conspiracies of opposition
parties, the anti-fascist press, the murmurings, the daily comments on
domestic and foreign policy - these all constitute attempts at making things
public. Meanwhile, the legitimate public sphere was monopolised by the
State, and thus lost its characteristic functions of mediating between political
power and civil society. The result was a society that seemed to prefigure the
relationship between public and private, typical of the development from the
liberal to the interventionist State, ending up as a deformed version of the
classic model. Here one witnesses not only the processes of neo-corporatism,
Forms of social acceptance of Fascism 149

but the very conversion of the public sphere on the basis of the management of
consensus by the administration, associations and parties. Parallel to this is
the manipulation and substitution of the private sphere by publicity. The new
publicity extended the influence of commercialisation into the most private
areas of an individual's life.28
4 * Resistance to demographic policy

1 Recollections of the campaign to raise the birth-rate

Some of our subjects offer a description of the Fascist regime with particular
reference to its campaign to raise the birth-rate, and their resistance to it.
There are not many who refer to this (only 10 women and 4 men) because the
issue is a delicate one, especially for practising Catholics, but this is
compensated for by the quality of their testimonies, which are of considerable
They overcome their conflicting feelings about the dictator and the regime
on the demographic issue, which is seen as a central feature of Fascism. Even
those who previously expressed a certain sympathy for the Duce display
implacable opposition on this issue. For example, Malvina states 'Mussolini,
what he wanted was there to be a lot of children', and Emma 'The Duce was
the type who only had a thing against those who didn't marry, he wanted
people to marry so that they would have children', and Tosca 'Oh Fascism!
The Duce! Have babies! Don't think of your husband, have babies, give me
babies to slaughter. He only wanted boys. To make war. Then he made it'.
The forms of resistance recalled varied. There were those of women who
refused to have children and resorted to abortion.
How many children did you have?
FIORA I had three.
Are they all alive?
FIORA Yes, yes. They're all alive. I would have had more, but you didn't to spite
Mussolini, you see.
Then there were men who rejected being told what to do along with the
ideology that was being forced on them. Such was the case of Luigi Vercellotti
(the worker with 'the magic touch', who never 'had a part in any conspiracy').
He reluctantly agreed to join the PNF, but responded to being asked to
enlarge the size of his family at a meeting of the Fascist section, by refusing to
take on the job of warden:
Resistance to demographic policy 151

At a meeting once at the Bianchi Centre in Piazza Statuto, they wanted me to have
children - to go home and - if you'll excuse the expression -jump on the wife. But who
would be so daft? There was already so much misery, damn it! So I couldn't swallow
The request caused resentment because it was taken as an attack on the
identity of the ideal worker who was capable, far-sighted, self-disciplined.
Only 'Southerners' had a lot of children, being both careless and work-shy.
Vercellotti said of those who were taken in by the birth-rate propaganda:
They were from down there - rather like now - Are you Piedmontese? (Yes) Well then,
Arabs! People who didn't work in the factory because they got the family allowance,
one had 14 children, another 10 or 12!
The whole system of bonuses and incentives for large families offended their
self-image, cultural identity and moral values. One only had to carry on
behaving as before to resist. Malvina: 'Just imagine, we Piedmontese couldn't
be moved by that.'
Apart from the propaganda and incentives, people remembered the fiscal
measures to discourage behaviour which departed from the norms of mar-
riage and procreation. Carlo Gobetti (who told us about the Turin carnival)
recalls that he preferred to do casual work rather than pay the tax on celibacy:
'Oh, the tax on celibacy ... I never wanted to pay it. They sent for me ... 'How are
things? - You must pay the celibacy tax now'.
'But look, I'm unemployed'.
'What do you mean unemployed?'
'Yes, I'm not working, I don't have a job.' Because they said to those who were
unemployed didn't pay the tax, that tax, I was never found at work, I always landed up
unemployed because I'd told the boss where I was, I was already in the luggage trade,
so I said to the boss 'Keep me on without my cards' because I didn't want to pay, either
to join the Fascist party or to pay the tax ... I'd dug my heels in so to speak, well, and I
didn't want to ... so I worked without my cards.
Renzo Anselmo (whom we remember from the singing of Maria Gioana and the
joke about the 'bastard government') tells of how he used the tax on celibacy
to make anti-fascist propaganda in the factory, turning the tables on the
Let's start now with December 1938. A person at this carpentry shop in Fiat, in Via
Passo Buole, a person comes up to me and we start a discussion, because they've given
him a form to fill in to pay the celibacy tax. There was the celibacy tax then if you
weren't married by 25, you paid a tax. This person had already undergone six or seven
operations at that time. He was mutilated all over from the cutting and sawing ... and
he complained, saying: 'It's a disgrace that I've to pay the celibacy tax, I'll never
marry because I'm not able to marry or keep a family, or have one. On the contrary, it
would be a disgrace if I had a family, the condition I'm in.' And I said: 'See what things
have come to? Here we are living in a world of crooks, because if I want to get married,
I get married, if I don't want to get married, I should be free to do what I want, without
paying a tax. It's daylight robbery!' - We said as much a couple of times. A person who
was hidden to one side two yards away, heard what we were saying. He was a squad
152 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
member dressed in overalls like all the other workers. Then he went and told the other
Fascists: 'That lot are talking in a defeatist, anti-fascist way.' And they came up to
attack me where I was working. However, a dialogue a rather excited dialogue
started up and I said: 'But look you're a bunch of ignoramuses. I said that the person
who's put a tax on celibacy's a thief, and I'll repeat it ten times in front of you, because
he was a Frenchman and wasn't an Italian at all.' Because the tax on celibacy had been
invented in France, they copied it and brought it to Italy. They brought it to Italy ...
Then the thing died down a bit.2
When making such claims to resistance, our subjects touch only on the part
of the Fascist regime's campaign to raise the birth-rate which offended their
traditional self-image, and which came into direct conflict with linguistic
taboos on sexuality. We can say that memory works in such a way as to restore
what was threatened in the past, meaning not only the individual's cultural
identity but also his private life, which was subjected to physical invasion by
an expanding public sphere under the control of the State and its agencies.
However, in reality, demographic policy covered a much wider field than
suggested by the recollections. It cannot be divorced from the welfare and
benefits provision of the regime, which was implemented through state
agencies and a variety of measures. These included a very wide range of
initiatives, from the Battle for Wheat to the wholesale clean-up campaign
(bonifica integrate). Propaganda to raise marriage and birth-rates had already
been underpinned by fiscal measures in the 1920s. These included the tax on
celibacy for men between the ages of 26 and 65 and exemptions and tax
concessions for large families (with ten children, or seven in the case of state
employees), as well as other material and financial incentives, such as bonuses
for births, marriage assurance, allowances and gifts for large families. The
measures were accompanied by welfare provision carried out both by
specially created agencies, such as ONMI (Opera nazionale per la maternita
e l'infanzia - The National Maternity and Childhood Trust, founded in
1925) and offshoots of the PNF, such as its agency for welfare work, which
organised camps for children. The attempts to discourage urban settlement
and emigration also formed part of the explicit demographic policy (though
the brakes were put on emigration in the 1920s above all by the Quota Acts
which restricted the number of immigrants going to the United States). 3
Demographic policy was not designed merely to increase the population
but to carry out a clean-up operation. This means it was closely tied up with
the political inspirations at the heart of the regime. It is no accident that one of
its manifestos was the Ascension Day speech of 1927 which insisted on the
need to 'cleanse' the race, fusing together biological eugenicist concerns with
the aims of a political purge.
Thus, as memory rightly recalls, a number of issues of special relevance to
the analysis of the transition from the liberal to the Fascist State came
together in demographic policy. This is especially so as regards the relation-
ship of the individual to the State and the Fascist form of the Welfare State,
Resistance to demographic policy 153
both in family policy and policy towards women, where the regime's attitude
was full of contradictions. Contradictions in policy in every area, from support
for the integrity of the nuclear family to the provision of new benefits and
welfare, become clear. Nor was it just the usual disparity found in Fascism
between ideology and practice. The truth was that structural tendencies that
the regime was supposed in other respects to be promoting, such as the
progressive transformation of the family into a unit of consumption rather
than production, or the growing need for more comprehensive and higher
education, were undermining its demographic policy, making it uneconomic to
have a large number of offspring.4 This could only be partly avoided by the
welfare assistance for mothers and the provision of social services which
enabled them to share the responsibility for the upbringing of their children.
Once again these efforts came into conflict with the commitment to dis-
courage women from working.5
Finally, the ideological aspect was of particular importance in the demo-
graphic campaign. One only has to think of the self-image that Mussolini
wanted to present of the virile, healthy, robust and efficient man as a new
model to impose on Italian men. Virility was a persistent theme in demo-
graphic propaganda. It was the counterpart to a notion of femininity reduced
to biological motherhood and linked to new forms of subordination of
In the 1930s, the campaign to raise the birth-rate intensified and spread,
especially through the implementation of the Fascist concept of the Welfare
State, which included the full use and the extension of the power of ONMI
and the setting up of local authority welfare agencies, and related to its
militarist and imperialist adventures. It had already taken 'negative'
measures in pursuit of its population policy, such as banning of contraception
and contraceptive advice and information. Between 1933 and 1937 it added a
broad set of incentives to fathers of large families - such as jobs, improvements
in salary and career prospects. It offered wedding and birth loans, maternity
insurance, improvements in the family allowance system, increments in child
benefit for large families and the setting up of a central body to co-ordinate
demographic policy. At the end of the 1930s, Mussolini's demographic
campaign converged with the more sinister Nazi-inspired campaign, giving
rise to out-and-out racism (1938).
Given this range of measures, it is marked how the memory has focussed on
the negative aspects above all else. The testimonies recall how the initiatives
of the regime and the agencies in support of large families caused jealousy and
rivalry, intensifying the divisions within the working classes.

EMMA We mothers had so much in allowances for our children that there was a bit of
jealousy because those who were unmarried [in the same factory] used to say: 'Look,
they give them a certain cost of living supplement, they give allowances for the babies
as well, but they give us little because we're "Spinsters".'
154 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
ANNA And those who worked at Fiat, got presents for the babies at Christmas. We
never got anything, not even there - because my husband worked at the plant for Fiat,
but we never got anything, never, not a thing. Just as well that I, I did without them.
The allowance to unmarried mothers seems to have caused a lot of
resentment; so much so that in certain cases the opposition to Fascist welfare
assistance becomes indistinguishable from anti-fascism.
ANGELA You always grumbled about Fascism always - at least as far as I was
concerned, because after the factory which closed, it didn't work any more, I had to go
and work as a cook for abandoned children. The woman director was anti-fascist. Yes
- anti-fascist. And we got on well because we thought the same way. In fact she was
there precisely because of the pregnancies, as the Duce gave subsidies to those who had
had more children, and there was a girl - who came to us - an unmarried mother, who
wanted to give up her son, and the director asked her why this child, if... And she told
her: 'But when I had this child, I had the allowance but as he's grown up the allowance
has got smaller and so I've had another one.' So she had had the allowance and she
wanted to give him up and not support him. She had six. She had six of them. But the
director didn't take them in. She said 'No, I'm not going to take them because it's
supporting immoral behaviour and that I won't have!'
In other cases, however, the regime's allowance was treated as of little
importance in comparison with solidarity between women workmates.
AMELIA We were all very fond of each other in the factory ... You see, we had a girl,
an unmarried mother whose father threw her out of the house when he found out she
was pregnant. And look, for us the baby ... she called him Primo, and to us Primo was
the baby of the factory. At Easter we had a collection for him - without boasting - I
always took the initiative and everyone put in a bit. Christmas came, and her child was
always with our babies ... her father had put her out of the house, and we got together
and fixed her up in an attic; some one gave a chair, someone this, someone that, the
boss gave her the table, we made the clothes for the little one. No ... at work we've
always ... if we knew that someone - we'd say 'You give what you can' - and then we
put in a few coins. We didn't abandon our mothers, our teenage mums.
But didn't they have an allowance from the Fascist government?
Yes, but it was a miserable amount!
The recollections do not highlight instances of consent, so much as the
breakdown of solidarity and the consequent acceptance of the ideology of
those in power. This can be seen in the social differentiation of women
brought about by the regime's policies, and in the rivalry stirred up by the
propaganda, over who could produce more children.
CARMEN They gave you 100 lire when they were born. However, because I had the
sewing-machine and the caretaker's lodge, they didn't give me the 100 lire.
AMELIA Then the Duce gave clothes for the baby to those who gave birth Christmas
night. I gave birth an hour-and-a-half later ... an hour-and-a-half later I gave birth,
and so I didn't get the clothes. Then some Fascist women in the locality sent me a
parcel of diapers which I sent back.
You sent it back?
Yes, I certainly did. I was poor but I had enough things to dress my son. Because I
had the Sister telling me: 'Hurry up, hurry up, push, push!' But push, be damned! Just
Resistance to demographic policy 155

to get the baby clothes. You see, you weren't even good enough to get a few clothes.
Oh, it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter - No...
In these two cases, it is particularly the fact of being excluded and the
consequent feeling of rejection that are fixed in the memory. Sometimes
awareness of their own strength and power as childbearers, is tinged with
contempt for other women. When Fiora talks about her failed attempts at
abortion, she boasts a certain superiority:
That's one of my strong points, like my mum, whilst I see beautiful ladies who can't
have children. Me, I didn't lose it, I didn't lose it.
It is certainly awareness of their own reproductive powers which underlines
the determination of these women to decide when and how they get pregnant.
But once again, we can note the ambivalence; in this case, it is in the ideology
of motherhood, with the Fascist stress on the functional role of 'instilling a
notion of normality in themselves and others'. 7 Carmen recalls the period
when she and her sister-in-law had two boys, while a neighbour, wife of an
official, who was an engineer, had a girl. It was a Fascist family, related to a
cardinal, and the godfather at the baptism was actually a Federal Secretary.
That lot wanted a boy, not a girl. I know that in that neighbourhood, the only boys
born were mine and my nephew. All the rest were girls!
Carmen thus can assert her superiority on two counts. On the one hand an
intellectual and moral superiority over the others, who were Fascist ignora-
muses (and, naturally, Southerners); 'I had two, one boy and one girl, it was
all the same to me.' But on the other hand, there was also a physical
This baby girl was 13 months old when she died. They took her to Sicily but obviously
she'd caught cystitis and was dead at 13 months! Another one was born, another girl!
Then another, another girl. Then once I met her - and she said - 'Oh signora, the
misfortune, I aborted and just think, it was a boy! All the misfortunes that I have
endured!' She was a real swine.
Women who are class enemies are depicted as immoral, weak or physically
incapacitated and full of prejudices. On the other hand, these women see
themselves as able to produce children while retaining the right to not have
them. Their attitude brings to mind the link between the skilled worker and
the construction of a future socialist society.
The ambivalence in the ideology related to reproductive power does not
detract from the importance or novelty of the practice of self-determination in
the field of child-birth. However, in the case we are considering, it is
instrumental in the assumption that the women want to prove - namely that
their conditions have improved compared to those of their mothers and
grandmothers. Under the influence of present-day ideas, the women attribute
progress to their decisions and actions, which they claim as the precursors of
156 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
the rights women have won in recent years. These new ideas throw light on
the lives of other women in the past and allow their efforts and perseverence to
be analysed and understood in new ways, thereby also making it possible to
salvage something positive from the stories of the past which would otherwise
only recall the pain.
Such an emphasis does not, of course, entirely overshadow the recollection
of forms of women's power - their decision-making ability in the family, their
moral and physical force and the recognition they achieved on occasion.
However, it should be remembered that all of this was based on an enormous
amount of work ('it was always me who kept things going', says Maria Gallo),
and involved subordination and exclusion from almost all areas of public life,
including many forms of entertainment ('we women, stood watching the men'
- Maria Gallo speaking again). Hence the absense of nostalgia for the past,
and the reason why regrets would be out of place. 8 'Better to weep for a
husband when he's dead,' Adelina said after she had painted a picture of her
husband (a Communist worker at Fiat) as a violent, drunken, foul-mouthed
man. Characters of this kind lurk in the background of many accounts.
In these cases, memory emphasises the positive angle of the story and
selects the examples which confirm that things have improved, in the
transition from the past to the present, and from the older to the younger
generations - such as smaller families and much more information about sex.
This is typical of those who lived through hard times, and fought for radical
changes, who want to see the present in the best light. At the same time, it is a
memory which still suffers from the sense of exclusion and separation, the
burden of prohibitions and taboos, experienced as external impositions.
Many women remember, with a note of bitterness, that no-one talked to them
about the menstrual cycle, sexual relations, or giving birth. Even today, they
experience the oppression of what Angela called the 'animal ignorance' that
they were left in, through the total lack of information about their own
reproductive functions.
These women are bitter because they were left to cope on their own due to
the high price they were forced to pay in taking control of their own fertility.
Even the women who played a part in left-wing movements and parties, and
who are in the majority in our sample, assume the sole responsibility for their
decisions. They insist that they were the first to practise contraception and
had broken with the customs passed on to them by their mothers. We must
remember that even before Fascism, Italy had never been exposed to
neo-Malthusian movements or arguments comparable with other Western
countries.9 The labour movement (with the exception of some anarchist
elements) had often been opposed to birth control and mistrustful of the
neo-Malthusians. These concerns derived from a liberal-radical tradition
(which the strong Anglo-Saxon feminist movements drew upon) which had
only an isolated or partial echo in Italy. 10 In some regions of Italy, there was
Resistance to demographic policy 157
(and still is) the widespread belief that it was feckless and immoral to have
more children than you could properly maintain, but this was probably
confined to the middle classes and upper echelons of the working class. The
Fascist regime, however, developed a more extreme version of the ideology in
which motherhood, was, whatever the cost, the sole destiny of women.
Moreover the regime exerted material pressures and polemicised against any
behaviour which contested this ideology. It is perhaps no accident that the
women who link together Fascism and resistance to the population campaign
in their recollections were of fertile age during the height of the Fascist regime.
They were born between 1889 and 1909 and were between 20 and 50 years old
during the decade 1929-39.
To sort out which claims to resistance are well founded it is not sufficient to
shed light on the ideological constraints of the present (which work through
selection not falsification, and, in this case, act as a short-circuit between
anti-fascism and feminism). In addition, we must avoid treating these claims
as simply reflecting the general decline in fertility which affected many
Western countries from the end of the 19th century.
First of all, it should be remembered that the demographers themselves
have questioned the picture of a drastic and dramatic fall in population,
especially for the inter-war period. The effect of decline has been estimated as
less severe than had been thought in the 1930s, particularly for Italy as a
whole. Moreover, it needs to be borne in mind that Fascist demographic
policy began to bear fruit at the end of the decade 1920-30;n there was a
reduction in the mortality rate and, in all probability, a slowing down of the
decline in the birth-rate, especially in certain regions where it was tradi-
tionally higher.12 Nevertheless, despite the delay in Italy, the change was part
of the great rise in population in Europe which began at the end of the 1930s,
and accelerated in the following decades.13
Secondly, the decline in fertility has often been depicted as a relentless
trend of a structural nature, related to other vast processes, vaguely defined as
modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation, which was unaffected by
the political efforts of the authorities. Individuals do not appear in such
processes, except as unconscious actors, deprived of any autonomy or voice.14
The great value of the testimonies is that they offer new insights into the role of
the individual and subjective decisions in history, as well as stimulating
research on the other sources.

2 Birth-control practices
Although it cannot be taken as representative of a much larger sample of
women, the reproductive practice of the women interviewed here provides
interesting data. Out of 33 women, 1 had 4 children, 5 had 3 children, 8 had 2
children and 10 only 1 child, while 4 out of the 9 with no children were
158 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

unmarried. Some of the 10 most forthright women explained how they

managed to limit the number of children they had:
You had no means of birth-control? No contraceptives?
CLEOFE Perhaps there was already talk of sheaths...
AMELIA Yes, after my first [born in 1924 the other was born in 1937] I used them
because I didn't want any more.
That was the only thing?
CLEOFE The only thing that you could use if you had money ...
AMELIA If you didn't have the money, you looked at the moon!
CLEOFE You said: 'Be careful!'

The last two statements refer to two contraceptive practices which other
testimonies talk about - abstinence and coitus interruptus. The use of both,
alternately, did not solve all the problems. Apart from the possibility of
making a mistake, the second practice required both partners to co-operate
and involved considerable risk.
ANNA When I was pregnant with my son, my husband said to me, 'Listen, if it's a
boy, let's stop there, and if there are daughters, let's carry on until you have a boy!'
'Well that's just great!' Thank goodness the first one turned out to be a boy and then
... then you had to be careful, you know, you had to be careful about withdrawing,
didn't you?
You mean him?
Yes, yes. Then once he came home ... he was drunk, because he had been drinking,
I tried to get away, but I didn't manage to, I didn't get pregnant though. This
happened two or three times.
Other testimonies allude to the contraceptive practice of vaginal douche
after intercourse (see Fiora's account later on) but only, once again, to recall
how ineffective it was. The lack of reliable contraceptive devices for working-
class women emerges from their reticence. The difficulties were exacerbated
in the inter-war period by the legal bans imposed, by the Fascist regime, on
the spread of every kind of contraceptive device and information.
In 1926, the law on Public Order had already imposed a 'ban on
newspapers or other periodicals carrying advertisements or correspondence of
any kind which refer to methods of impeding fertility or interrupting
pregnancy, even on a scientific or therapeutic pretext'. The special law No.
1070 of 23 June 1927, however, 'by issuing instructions on public health,
controlled and oversaw the prescribing of contraceptive devices of a prophy-
lactic kind which served a genuine medicinal purpose, while allowing a free
market in those contraceptive means which had no medicinal value'.
In the preliminary draft of Sub-section 10 of the Rocco Code 1930, 'Crimes
against the Purity and Health of the Race', provision was made for 'the ban on
the promotion and prescribing, for financial gain, means designed to impede
fertility, except for prophylactic purposes'. However, the supporters of the
draft had themselves to acknowledge that 'the initial paragraph was fraught
with dangers by making it impossible to sell contraceptives with just cause.
Resistance to demographic policy 159
Apart from the fact that no chemist would have continued to keep them under
his supervision, difficulties were bound to arise for those prescribing such
means when ascertaining whether they were sought for medicinal or con-
traceptive purposes.'
The approved article (No. 553) of the law was formulated in these terms:
Whoever publicly incites people to acts to prevent procreation or makes propaganda
for the purpose, will be punished by imprisonment of up to one year or with afineup to
10,000 lire.
The following paragraph, however, was scrapped:
The same penalty will apply to those who prescribe, for financial gain, means of
impeding fertility, except where these are prescribed for medicinal purposes.
(It should be noted that, during the preparatory stages, Catholic Action* had
also exerted pressure to have the phrase 'except... for prophylactic purposes'
scrapped.) The article had concluded: 'Such penalties will be applied
concurrently if the offence is committed for financial gain.' 15
The ban on all forms of information on contraceptive methods cannot but
invite comparison with the situation in other countries where neo-Malthusian
and feminist movements had a strong presence. While it is only right to
emphasise, as Anna Treves has done, that the population policy of the Fascist
State was not out of step with the rest of Europe in the inter-war period, it
should not, however, be overlooked that despite the contradictions and gaps
in policy, important steps, such as the establishment of birth-control clinics,
were being taken in other countries such as the United States and Britain at
the time. It was no accident that the Fascist jurists themselves stressed the fact
that 'the offence of incitement to acts against procreation, as far as we know,
has no historical precedent. It is the expression of Fascist demographic
The Fascist bans added to the age-old repression that prevented any
attempt by women to determine their own fertility. Feminist scholars, both
female and male, have pointed out how general sexual repression in the West
is profoundly linked to the specific oppression of women and the fear of them
taking control of their own bodies.17 The long term effect (not the cause) has
been the lack of reliable contraceptive devices. Methods, which were known to
ancient peoples, were forgotten by the Christian West, even if they were
sometimes passed on through prostitution, extra-marital relationships and
erotic literature. These traditions were certainly not strong enough to alter the
demographic pattern. Even though it is documented that birth-control
methods were practised within marriage from the end of the 16th century,
they had no immediate significant demographic effects. They were confined to
certain geographical areas - France and Switzerland which were more than a
* Catholic Action: an arm of the Catholic Church composed of 4 lay members active on social and
political questions.
160 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
century in advance of Britain, the other leading country in this field - but,
more important still, these ideas were shared by only a section of bourgeois
The same method of coitus interruptus, which was the oldest and best-known
method in Western Europe, only spread among the working classes, in France
and England at least, in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1930s in Italy,
Fascists complained that the most widespread Malthusian method which had
come into common use even in the 'most modest marriage beds', was
'preventive withdrawal, that robs nature by exalting the selfish pursuit of
sexual gain, and robs the State because it deprives the Nation of thousands
and thousands of citizens'. They deplored the fact that it was practised not
only by the upper classes but also by the working population, especially in
urban areas. They insisted in their effort to discourage them on the 'dangers'
that all forms of contraception represented for physical and mental health.
According to Visco, all systems of controlling fertility proved damaging to
health and caused nervous disorders, mental delirium, spasms, neurotic stress
and even certain kinds of madness. In women they were supposed to cause
chronic endometriosis, parametriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids etc. 19
Despite the alarm of the pro-natalists, it is doubtful whether coitus interruptus
was sufficient to slow down the birth-rate. The really novel factor, highlighted
in the first dialogue, was the male contraceptive sheath whose use seems to
have spread especially after the Second World War. This was also known
from the end of the 18th century as the writings ofJeremy Bentham, de Sade
and Casanova show, but it only became widely available after radical changes
in attitude and technology. Prominent among these changes was the process
of sulphurating rubber, invented in 1844, the introduction of automation in
the 1930s and the use of latex. All these factors combined to form a better,
more elastic and resilient product at a significantly reduced cost. This also
encouraged its spread from a restricted social group - such as that of libertines
- to a much wider social group, and its use for contraceptive as well as
medicinal purposes (to counter venereal disease).
Two of our subjects, however, reminded us that cost sometimes prohibited
use of the new method. We should further bear in mind that purchasing
sheaths was not the easiest of things to do socially in the Fascist period, except
by going to another neighbourhood in a big city. If, on the one hand, the ideal
of the Piedmontese worker allowed for a certain degree of complicity, it was
undesirable on the other to become known locally as one who practised
birth-control. Moreover, this method required the man to take responsibility,
and he was not always sensitive to the reasons why women wanted to limit the
number of their offspring.
All these considerations, together with the lack of other reliable methods,
explain why people resorted to what appears from the written and oral
sources to have been a very widespread practice of birth-control, namely
Resistance to demographic policy 161

abortion. O u r subjects insist again and again on this by referring to other

women's experiences:
ANGELA Abortions were banned, but they were almost always done, they were
carried out with knitting needles . . .
But at home by themselves?
Yes, at home, by themselves. Just before you came, there was a woman here whose
sister aborted six times and she always did it by herself, and then she ended up dying of
cancer of the uterus - It's not surprising...
But didn't they go even to a midwife sometimes?
Oh yes. They went to a midwife too, many of them, you know...
Occasionally they refer to their own experience:
AMELIA Look, I got pregnant again, and I didn't have any money. I didn't want any
more, I didn't want any more, because I had to go to work because there wasn't
enough money and he was three years old, so how was I to manage? My husband was
all for having another child because he, for him . . . I did everything myself. I'd no
money so I borrowed 500 lire, you paid 500 lire t h e n . . .
EMMA Ah yes, to get it d o n e . . .
AMELIA That's it. I borrowed 500 lire and I had an abortion, without saying
anything to my husband. Now you have to get permission from Tom, Dick and
Harry.* My husband came home and found me in bed. He said: 'How have things
been? What's up?' 'Nothing.' He understood straight away - for God's sake!
'I'll throw you out of the window!', and so on, and so on 'I'll report you!' 'Report
what you like, now I, now . . . What's done is done' - To give you an idea of the
situation we were in.
EMMA Hell, even if I say it without believing . . . Do you believe in Hell? My God, we
had Hell here. When you have to go through the troubles I've been through, I think
that I've already found Hell on earth and here I am!
AMELIA And don't forget I had to go to work then because I was doing domestic
work then. I worked and to pay back this money, I had to work overtime...
You didn't say what you needed the loan for?
It was all kept secret?
AMELIA All kept secret, I left from work, I went to this midwife, had the abortion,
stayed there two or three hours and then went away and came home, all alone,
completely alone, I put myself to bed . . .
EMMA Whoever could get hold of a loan of at least...
AMELIA At least have 500 lire. There were 2,000 women where I worked, but you
know I saw so many die. Of abortions they carried out themselves. Do you know what
they used?
A knitting needle? Parsley?
AMELIA Parsley, the parsley stalk, as long as this . . . and then they came to work and
had a haemorrhage there, while they were working...
These two testimonies describe different ways of aborting- the one self-inflic-
ted using home-remedies and the other carried out by medical personnel for
payment. The first kind of abortion was still being used at the end of the 1930s,

* Under the current law, a woman has to seek the permission of a doctor, psychiatrist etc. to
obtain an abortion.
162 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
even in a large industrial city, as the files on prosecutions for abortion in Turin
between 1938 and 1942 testify.20 Legal proceedings were taken out against
Giovanna C. (born 1895, mother of seven children, the last two born in 1935
and 1938) for inserting a parsley stalk into the uterus, and against Angela M.
(born 1910, a worker) for imbibing large doses of magnesium sulphate and
quinine. (She had, however, aborted spontaneously and was acquitted as the
means used were not considered designed for the purposes of abortion). 21
As well as these methods, which, according to the documentation avail-
able, 22 were more widespread anyway in small towns and country areas, in
the city people also used chemists' preparations (the 'Viennese' potion, sold
by a chemist in Via Chiesa della Salute, Pagliano syrup, the cappuccino and
manassiera tablets, other tablets with French labels perhaps with an ergot*
base, which cost 45 lire a box in 1938). They also sought the help of women
who were experts in the use of other methods, such as repeated hot douches
with various substances (for example a soapy water douche of the uterus used
by a nurse). 23 However, there were frequent cases of abortion in the cities
carried out by medical personnel, doctors and midwives, both by D and C
(dilation and curettege 'the scrape') and in the case of midwives by inserting
a probe. Abortion was medicalised in a clandestine way by doctors, midwives
and nurses, as we will show at greater length later. To go back to abortions
carried out by women themselves, popular traditions transmitted by word of
mouth and through the actions of experts and healers were still alive due to
women's determination to control their fertility. This clandestine culture
co-existent with the development of medical science, but hardly affected by it,
formed part of the popular tradition of herbal medicine (the use of plants that
caused irritation or spasms of the intestine or that induced menstrual
bleeding) and of knowledge of the workings of the body, and included the use
of mechanical means, purgatives, violent exercises and hip-and-foot baths to
induce abortion. 24
In the abortion trials in Turin between 1938 and 1942 (which also included
cases which occurred in small towns), the following methods of abortion were
uncovered: falling off a bicycle, subjection to heavy work, immersion in
fast-flowing water up to the stomach, imbibing large quantities of purgatives
(bitter salt, laxative pills, taurine tablets, castor oil, mannaf, senna and
herbal concoctions such as the well-known sabina and laudanum leaves,
quinine on its own or mixed, for example with saffron and iron); then there
was the use of mechanical means (bone crochet-hooks with the head removed,
knitting needles, parsley stalks, bone hairpins), taking hot baths and various
kinds of douches, inserting pessaries of abrasive substances into the vagina. 25
One cannot but be struck by the parallel between these methods and those
found in other parts of the world and other periods in history, even if one does
* A mould which grows on rye and other grasses.
| A gum from the Sicilian ash.
Resistance to demographic policy 163
not subscribe to the idea of continuity of birth-control in popular culture. On
top of these very old traditions, the practice has taken root of serious
self-inflicted poisoning, a habit picked up from observing the conditions in an
industrial environment (for example, lead poisoning).26 These methods,
rather than inducing abortion with any certainty, often facilitated eventual
miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy by introducing toxic substances
into the body.
In the late 1930s, the practice of home abortion in Turin, and the continued
existence of networks of women who could carry it out, was still an important
fact of life, even if we are not able to quantify its occurrence. One subject tells
us how she frequently came to perform home abortions. This is Malvina, who
came from a country area to Turin in the 1920s, and had, like her husband,
found work at Fiat. She also says that she had received no sex education, but 'I
was a shrewd girl and I'd learnt a thing or two . . . I picked things up . . . a bit
from here and there, you know5 (especially from fellow workers and from some
neighbours). In particular, Malvina affectionately recalls an older woman,
called the 'railway worker' after her husband's job, who lived in the same
block and had helped her the first time she got pregnant. She gave the names
of a doctor and midwife: 'She helped me, she sent me to a place, they didn't
come either to keep you company and they didn't even give you the right
address. They more or less said "Go there and you should find.. ,"' 2 7 (The
price was high and the danger and suffering were not to be shrugged off.) The
abortion was 'without anaesthetic, then after half an hour . . . I was taking
the tram and coming home'.
So on the second occasion, Malvina followed the advice of a cousin - to go to
the Porta Palazzo market, count the first three vegetable stalls, pretend to be
buying and tell the lady greengrocer that she needed her. She would
understand straight away. She would be the woman 'who came from France'
from whom Malvina learnt how to douche with soap flakes and a little oil in
the case of a late period. Malvina then tried to teach this to other women,
including her sister-in-law, but not every woman was capable or willing to
master the art, since it required application and skill.
I knew someone who had been in France but then she taught me how to sort it out with
soap and water. Very hygienic... and, and ... but that woman told me in no uncertain
terms: 'Malvina, I have been to a lot of women, but they've never robbed me of my
trade, but you've robbed me.' No doubt, because perhaps ... you know how it is, they
taught you but it took you a week of work, you know how it is! So when I realised it was
soap ... well, this woman used to bring it, she used to bring it from some other woman
and she ... one day she said to my husband ... 'Certainly you're a lucky man with this
woman, you've got no problems because she's stolen my trade'. I says: 'I'm not going
to do it for others, for goodness sake, but it's true that you taught me a lot.' Because
there were so many women who were also afraid. 'This hurts me, and this ...' but I
think nothing hurts more than having a baby. If you use healthy stuff, it'll certainly do
no ... you see. That's very important [...] you know, because of the necessities of life,
you know how it is ... husbands ... If you don't satisfy them ... I was afraid ... he'd
164 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
get i l l . . . but no chance of that with me! But I didn't tell him anything more about it, I
didn't even sigh anymore. He said to me one day: 'How is it t h a t . . . ? ' 'Oh don't worry
. . . it happens . . . ' they say soap and water was used a lot in France . . . But they had . . .
they called it a 'portable set', the woman who taught me to do it, said . . . So there was,
. . . I don't know how to put i t . . . , a thing that injected, that went up a tube that sucked
in from one end and got rid of it from the other. That's how it was done - there was a
little appliance that was used like this so the soapy water was squirted there, if you
managed i t . . . soap, you know, softens if it gets there [i.e. the cervix], then it opens up!
Only you needed to stick at it, if you didn't manage it one evening, you managed it
another time. You didn't find it here, though. Where could I, where could I go to a
chemist who would sell me that? What was I to do? So I learnt to use the enema set, I
had one of those things . . . Now they don't even exist any more and even I don't know
. . . I, I threw it away. I used to put it right the way up . . . up, up, up, up high and then I
opened the . . . with the tube from the enema bag and I sorted it out. The enema bag
had two ends: one to take in the soapy water, the other you had to insert side-by-side
then you put pressure on with the little pump, when you thought the moment was
My dear, I really led this kind of life because I used to say to myself- there's no
work, let's do something by ourselves, like everyone else because . . . the finger was
pointed at you: 'They don't want a family, they are not respectable people.' I had a
brother-in-law, my sister's bloke . . . I wasn't a respectable person because I didn't
want children . . . you understand . . . in any case I acted like that . . . Because what
were you to do, then the war came, those who had children . . . I already had a
husband, dying of hunger, poor thing. 28

Malvina went on to emphasise the silence imposed on her. She was kept in
check, on the one hand by the fear of being caught in a criminal act, and on the
other by social pressure. She reached the point, she recalls, of doing a pretend
wash and hanging out the pieces of cloth used during menstruation, for 'the
neighbour, who wouldn't get suspicious . . . because you were even afraid of
the air that you breathed'.
Malvina's story illustrates how far women were prepared to go, on their
own and in the face of every sort of obstacle, to carry out their aim of deciding
for themselves, risking their health, reputation and, in Fascist Italy, trial and
imprisonment from one to five years. (All this shows the speciousness of the
argument of those who justified doctors' refusal to provide contraceptive
devices and information on the grounds of women's ignorance and awkward-
ness about their own bodies, almost as if this were a natural fact of life,
particularly in the lower classes.)29
The methods of abortion which Malvina talks about were those resorted to
by a section of women living in poor circumstances and with a limited network
of social support. These women had had to experience the mistrust even of
those who helped them (hence the vague directions, lack of precise address,
and absence of the support). These cases are amply documented in the trials
for abortion. One finds, for example, many cases of turning to women who are
known 'to help in procuring abortions', although they are not nurses or
mid wives. They employ various techniques, from probes to vaginal douches.
Resistance to demographic policy 165

Their reputation is sometimes based on their own success at having limited

the number of children they had. This is so in the case of Rina B., who for 400
lire carried out douches of hot, soapy water, and confessed during her trial
that she herself'used to have douches even if menstruation was only slightly
overdue, because she did not intend to have any more children'. In another
case, a widow, referred to in the proceedings as a worker, performed an
abortion by using a probe on a domestic servant (who then used a knitting
needle in place of the probe).
It was no accident that various people were almost always implicated in
these trials for having given information or arranged contact. The various
networks ranged from those of tried and tested friends or neighbours to
experts who could be reached via the cautious directions received in places
women frequented. One defendant, who was already the mother of an
'illegitimate' baby, declared that she had inserted three parsley stalks into her
womb and kept them there for three days, having been 'advised [to do so] by
an unknown woman whom she met at the market'. 30
The price for assistance ranged from 400 lire (for douches) to 600 lire (for
inserting a probe). In the case of professional assistance 800-1,000 lire were
asked, or even as much as 2,100 lire. We are dealing with high prices for a
period in which the average pay of an industrial worker was around 300 lire a
month. 31 But the decisive factor, apart from variation in price, would seem to
be the kind of social resources available. Women who could afford more
money and could rely on a wider, more secure social network, and on correct
information, resorted to professional assistance. They included many
members of the upper echelons of the working class and established town
dwellers. Naturally, we have fewer traces of these abortions, because they
were safer and less easily discovered. The cases documented came to light
because of some kind of complication and rarely because of anonymous
reporting, and even less because of police investigation.
The following case is interesting both because of the way it was discovered,
and because the channels used to procure the abortion were the best possible
at the time, involving the help of friends and acquaintances and qualified
medical assistance. In June 1941, Orsola B., who was already the mother of a
baby girl, sent a letter to her husband who was a tester in Libya. The Censor's
Office intercepted it as 'suspect' on the grounds that it might concern
procuring abortion and passed it on to the authorities responsible for public
order. This gave rise to an inquiry by the police and subsequently a criminal
prosecution. The woman complained in her letter of the lack of love from her
husband and of the financial and other sacrifices made by her. She used
expressions such as 'I'm in bed on account of that and I finished it all, half an
hour ago', and 'when you come home, you won't find any more of what you
left behind'. 'I've suffered a lot and will suffer more for a while yet', 'I had to
go to the professor', 'you think it's easy to find people who'll do the job?' 'So it
166 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
cost me about 1,000 lire', 'you can thank that tram-driver, Elena's friend,
otherwise I wouldn't have found anyone, and I would have ruined my health
through taking concoctions.' Orsola, in fact, had been introduced to a midwife
by the tram-driver, who was a friend of the family. She had inserted a probe,
but after three days, she had to get a doctor to assist. He proceeded to carry
out a scrape, and then sent the women to the local doctor, certifying that it
was a miscarriage due to cervical lesion, overwork and exhaustion.32 Every-
thing would, therefore, have been concluded normally, had the letter not been
It can safely be assumed that the number of abortions procured in the big
cities which came to light was really minimal compared to those successfully
performed. In fact, they even referred to a veritable industrialisation of
abortion in the major cities at the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the
1940s,33 which was only exposed in the rare cases of denunciation or serious
One example shows this. Two mid wives ran a complex organisation
between Saluzzo and Turin between 1932 and 1938, which ranged from
supplying gold-plated silver pessaries to causing abortion and finding places
for the new-born in hospices. This, in reality, cost nothing, but the mothers
were made to believe that it was necessary to pay 1,500-2,000 lire. Their
activities were publicised through an advertisement in La Stampa which
offered a boarding house in via Ormea for those giving birth. The safety of the
system lay in the possibility of sending women from Saluzzo to Turin and vice
versa. It was only discovered because of the denunciations of another midwife,
who had herself been sent into internal exile under surveillance. The two of
them were tried for the offences of procuring abortion in unspecified numbers,
of sale and application of contraceptive pessaries, and, one of them, for fraud.
The latter retracted her confession, while the other one always denied the
charges. In effect, almost nothing could be proven and their accuser had to be
dismissed as 'not credible and a liar'. Since all proof of abortion was lacking,
and the sums paid turned out to have been in return for board and lodging for
those giving birth, the only offence upheld was for using pessaries. One of the
mid wives was sentenced to five months detention and a 2,000 lire fine, with
costs (but it was a suspended sentence) and the confiscation of the two
pessaries found.34
Other cases did not reveal such an extensive organisation; there were
networks of acquaintances, who took you to a midwife or nurse, allied to a
doctor who was on hand to intervene in case of difficulties, when he did not
actually perform the abortion, and to certify that the abortion was a
miscarriage, as in the case of Orsola. But the written sources which are at our
disposal in the judicial archives all concern abortions discovered and,
therefore, taken to court. These limitations in the evidence remind us of the
climate of physical violence surrounding abortion, and which has markedly
Resistance to demographic policy 167

faded in memory. However, the distortion remains because we have no trace

of the numerous abortions where everything went well. It is, therefore, of
particular interest to follow a life-story where the circumstances and decisions
leading to birth-control are remembered in vivid detail.

3 Fiora's story
Fiora, who was born in Turin in 1903, got married in 1926. She was the
daughter of a tailor and had worked in a large dressmaker's since she was 11,
working her way up from apprentice to assistant to the maker of evening
gowns and 'fancy dress'; after her marriage she worked from home. Fiora's
husband came from a family of carpenters who ran a small factory. It
collapsed in the second half of the 1920s forcing him to work for an employer.
We are, therefore, dealing with an upper layer of the working class which
could move up into the world of the self-employed artisan. Fiora had three
children, in 1927, 1932 and 1934. She chose the length of time between births.
The failure of the contraceptive method used by her (douches) forced her to
resort to abortions, first in 1928, then in 1939 and lastly in 1947-8, after a false
alarm. Let us leave it to her to tell us her story:
I am the youngest of 12 children. It was my dad who said: 'I can't take my trousers off
without my wife getting pregnant.' Poor things, they scraped by, my dad was a tailor
but... he'd raised seven, becausefivehad died young, in fact three, Mario, Carlo and
Giuseppe were baptised because they were born alive, two had died before birth and
they weren't baptised, anyway he raised seven of us, I had four brothers and two
Was there no form of birth-control, to stop you from conceiving so many children?
No, there was nothing, I have had six myself, but then times had changed. And ... I
was helped, I can say so since Mussolini is no longer here to put us in prison ...
Ah, yes, because at that time ...
Damn it! You know that ... I can tell ... There's no way I'll go to prison? ... I
remember my first son, he's 53 now - was 13 months when I got pregnant again and
my midwife - a good woman, advised me saying: 'Look, if you want, I've a good
doctor, but you must come here alone, all right' - her flat was on the secondfloor,see
what courage I had - 'and come here by yourself, don't get anyone to come with you',
because being labelled a 'midwife' she was terrified that there'd be trouble if Mussolini
knew that ... And so I went and she got the doctor who is now on his last legs ...
Enough! What a business! I lay down on the midwife's kitchen table in a tiny
living-room, and this doctor came and gave me a scrape. And the midwife told me:
'Nobody must come to pick you up, you must go home ... get out of here and go home
alone ...' Somehow when it was over, I got up and made my way home. I even got
down the twofloors,because it was on the secondfloor,and there was certainly no lift!
Then I had my mum at home and she was waiting for me. It was half-past twelve when
I got home. My mum had come to wait for me, poor woman. She was already old, she
was almost 70, she was over 40 when she had me, but she still came, and when my
mum saw me, she said: 'Go to bed.' Who knows what I looked like ...
But your husband agreed?
Oh, my husband ... him ... Yes, yes, my husband - poor thing, him, too, I
168 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

explained things to him, then he understood, and it's not as if he said: 'Don't do it.' I'm
sure that he was very fond of me, he would've been anxious, but seeing me - because I
know my husband was really very fond of me, I've never been jealous on account of my
husband because I'm sure that he would never have been unfaithful, and all that.
The account makes terror a personal matter: 'there would be trouble if
Mussolini knew', and emphasises the loneliness of the woman, despite her
mother's support. The husband remains in the background. It seems that he
has no say in the decision which he is simply told about. What is required of
him is to understand the reasons which, anyway, fit in with consideration of
the couple's material circumstances. In fact, this first episode takes place at a
moment of economic crisis for the young couple. The husband, who had
managed to set himself up in business as a carpenter, got into difficulties, his
business collapsed and he had to go back to waged work. The economic
criterion is the predominant concern, and every decision is weighed up in
accordance. For the second birth in 1932, Fiora had to turn to her old
dressmaking skill in 'fancy dress' to pay the midwife, by spending a night
making a carnival costume for her.
The sufferings and risks involved in the second birth (the danger of
septicaemia, with the midwife saying 'You've a 50-50 chance of pulling
through') gave Fiora another reason for trying to avoid further pregnancies.
But no-one taught her any effective method, except for her midwife's advice to
have a douche after intercourse. Two years later, Fiora got pregnant for the
third time and turned to methods which were traditionally thought to induce
abortion, such as footbaths, eating parsley and taking purgatives. All these
efforts proved useless and did not terminate the pregnancy. It is 1934. Fiora's
husband is working for a relative and only a few years later will find a
permanent job at Fiat. Alongside the new-found security however, other
problems emerge - one of which is sending the three children to school. 'Then,
when this one [the third child, born in 1934] was five-dare I say it? When this
one was five, I got pregnant!' This time the midwife suggested another
method of abortion which we already know was very widespread - the
insertion of a probe:
And so she said to me: 'If you like, I'll let you go to three months, so that...' because
they say it's always better to go to three months for performing an abortion so that
everything comes out, nothing remains inside, because the scrape now is one thing, but
to put the ... the probe in, to put the probe in before three months, they say that it
comes out but some of it can be left inside.
But what was this thing like the probe was different from the scrape?
She put in me ... I had a thing inside, a thing inside and she advised me, I'll always
remember, 'Don't take the tram', from Piazza Gran Madre... I went by a friend's, I sat
down there by her stall for half an hour. It was carnival, because she had a stall selling
nougat and then I walked right down Via Po as far as Corso Vittorio and she said to
me: 'Look, you'll see that you ' (in Turinese dialect because she spoke in Turinese)
and she said: 'You'll see, you'll get the sensation tomorrow morning at 6 o'clock, and so
take a pot, the chamber-pot, put it underneath and it'll come out and I'll be round at
Resistance to demographic policy 169
your house at 7 o'clock.' She was so accurate ... In fact I felt it at 6 o'clock, and without
waking my husband or disturbing and frightening him, I took the chamber-pot and it
came out. You could see, even I who had no experience of that sort of thing, you could
see clearly that it was a boy. Because at three months ... Oh, I still have ... When I
made an omelet for my son today, I made an omelet, every time I break an egg and the
yolk doesn't come out, I see it, because the yolk is like when I see my nephews who had
those little dolls with tiny legs, I see it. And the yolk was the baby - he had his arms
raised, legs apart, you could see very well I saw - that it was a boy, surrounded with
water, like the white of an egg. Every time I break an egg, I see it before my eyes! You
know those dolls made of what do you call it, that children hold in their arms, when I
see them in their arms, I always see it before my eyes. Look, I knew it was a boy ... In
fact she, she came at 7, she knew ... she was even glad to come, because I always had
coffee ready and everything, I knew she was very fond of coffee, and then she came and
examined it thoroughly and said: 'Everything's fine, nothing has been left inside you'
... and then she threw it all down the toilet. Mussolini was still around then, Mussolini
was still around wasn't he!
Did you suffer?
Suffer, oh no, how could I suffer? I could hardly have stayed in bed, could I? No,
nothing like that, and I remember only ... the blood that I lost afterwards, and so I
remember that she made me drink phials of horse's blood. Phials of horse's blood, to
make up for the lost blood ...
Fiora's recollection is punctuated by moments of anxiety, not only when she
mentions something that brings Mussolini to mind but also in relation to the
present. (Before the interview, she had asked for her son's advice in deciding
whether to accept the request of going further into the matter, which she had
touched on in the first meeting.) By contrast, the Catholic Church's ban on
abortion does not seem to cause her dismay, even though she is a practising
Catholic, though not a strict one:
Then I confessed, I confessed it, ... because once a year I always took communion, so
I confessed it, I confessed it, and once you have confessed, you can take communion,
and I remember, I'd explained the situation to the priest, I went to San ... but it
wasn't my parish where I'd been baptised and got married. I even explained it to the
priest you know that, it's not as if he'd say straight away: 'You did the right thing.' No,
no, if anything they are more understanding now ...
It is obvious, even from the choice of parish, that Fiora was swayed by social
pressure rather than Catholic doctrine. The pressure exerted by the family
and community does not seem to have been that strong, but they instilled
moral values in her, so that she disapproved of birth control for 'selfish'
motives: Tor example I know people who have stopped at one and take the
pill so they don't conceive any more. I don't think it's right. I don't think it's
right, it is only so that they can have a good time'. She recognises it as
legitimate to refuse to get pregnant in cases of financial constraint, particular
difficulties and sacrifices, and danger from repeated child-birth.
Another socially accepted reason was age. Various women recount how
their own mothers were ashamed at having their last children when the others
were already grown up and even openly opposed to the birth. Even Fiora was
170 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
prepared to have an abortion in such circumstances immediately after the
Second World War when she mistook the onset of the menopause as a sign of
pregnancy. She turned on that occasion to an oral abortive agent given to her
by a woman 'who came from America'.
Fiora's story illustrates the way exercise of free choice is bound up with the
determinants that operate in these kinds of decisions. In the case of her second
child, she gave in to the biological determinant, after she had fought against it
with ineffective methods of contraception and abortion. In the case of the two
abortions she decided on the grounds of economic pressures, her state of
health, and the future of the children in a society which demanded education
to a level which increased and extended the costs of raising children over time.
For the third abortion, she bowed to cultural pressures of the image of the
middle-aged woman. Generally she took the relationship with her mother and
husband into account, as well as the ideological disposition of the Catholic
Church, whilst making up her own mind. By so doing, she managed to control
her fertility. Although it was not entirely under her control and she paid a high
price for it, given the overall circumstances it proved satisfactory. Her
individual decision was not taken in a vacuum, but was the product of both
external factors and individual will.35
The picture Fiora gives of the problem reflects the position of women from
the middle to upper layers of the working class of the large industrial cities. It
sums up all the various socio-cultural pressures and a way of coping with
them adequately. As a good wife and mother, who is morally strict and
respectful of the established order, and a religious person, though not a fervent
believer, Fiora is opposed to drastic birth control, even though she is
decidedly in favour of controlling her own reproductive power. She was not
guided by her mother, but convinces her with good reasons. She resorts to
abortion when it is seen as the only means of birth control available, and, as
such, is accepted by her family.
There emerges from the testimonies as a whole the belief in the rights of
women to dispose of their own bodies as they think fit, and to decide their own
actions in the field of reproduction. This belief marks a cut-off point in the
consent to Fascism which stands out in this case of a woman who boasts
elsewhere of having always been 'patriotic' and of having gladly donated her
gold engagement ring to the Fatherland. It should be noted, however, that as
the story proceeds to the third abortion in the years immediately after the war,
the change in government makes little difference to the women (Fascist
legislation on 'offences against the race' remained in force until 1978).36
However, terror in the Fascist period was fuelled by threats arising from the
population campaign and the overall oppression of the regime.
The belief in women's right to self-determination does not remove the
anguish and suffering caused by the restrictions imposed on women's freedom
to act. The account of the second abortion bears the traces of psychological
Resistance to demographic policy 171
trauma that the first one did not seem to bring on. In fact Fiora seems to
consider only the second one a real abortion (she does not even use the term in
recounting the first one). This is undoubtedly due to the different way they
were carried out: the first in a very early phase and the second after three
months pregnancy, using a more upsetting method.
Malvina's story has already shed light on one attitude to abortion per-
formed in the very early phase, one which is relatively free of that sense of guilt
that has made abortion such a traumatic experience in the minds of women in
recent decades. In addition to resorting to abortion, in the absence of other
methods of birth control, the greater likelihood of miscarriage, due to
exhaustion, overwork and dangerous jobs probably helped remove a sense of
guilt.37 The language used in many cases reflects an attitude which discounts
blame. The expressions recorded in the criminal proceedings speak of a sense
of relief; terms used include 'cleansed', 'cleared', or 'drawing out the dead
blood' 38 - a physical act comparable to menstruation, which concerns only
women. The paediatrician, Allaria, made the same observation in 1935, about
the mothers who had their babies in the Royal Paediatric Institute in Turin:
There are still traces today in popular language of the old idea that the embryo is not a
human creature at the beginning but a vegetable or animal one. For many women the
termination carried out in the initial phase of gestation is a 'haemorrhage' and not yet
an abortion, almost as if the creature in the process of formation did not exist.39
This ideology treats the lower classes as primitive savages when they do not
express their feelings in accordance with the dominant values. It does not take
account of how the pain and anxiety of having an abortion in difficult
circumstances can take a repressed form, as in the image of the egg in Fiora's
recollection, which acts as a shield against suffering in private.
But how could there be a rigid dividing line between contraceptive practice
and abortion when contraception was relatively haphazard and when one
relied on what one could, under very difficult circumstances? Moreover,
abortion and contraception were equated by the very authorities who banned
them both. In the inter-war period both were illegal in the eyes of the State in
Italy and constituted serious sins in the eyes of the Catholic Church. The two
practices have only recently been separated with the new found respectability
and legal status that contraception has acquired.
It is worth recalling that legal regulation in this field is relatively recent,
and before 1800 there were no laws against abortion in the first months of
pregnancy. The first anti-abortion legislation goes back to 1803, in Britain.
The attitude of the Christian Church itself has not always been consistent
historically. If the new-found human dignity of the foetus can be attributed to
Christianity (in contrast to the prevailing view in the ancient world), it was
not always so single-minded about defining at which point exactly the foetus
acquired such status. According to classical thinking, which Augustine and
Dante accepted, it came to life 40 days after birth for boys and 90 days for
172 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
girls. Sixtus V eliminated the distinction between the animate and inanimate
foetus in 1588, but Gregory XIV reintroduced it.
As we have seen, our subject reminds us of the relative indulgence of the
father confessor. It is difficult to assess the importance of this episode, because
the Code of Canon Law of 1917, then in force, made provision for the 'state of
irregularity'* and the 'excommunication3 of all those who procured abortion,
including the mother, without taking into account the stage of development of
the foetus. (By contrast only a 'state of irregularity' was imposed for
murder.) 40 The Fascist population campaign, moreover, had received the
firm support of Pius XI, who in the encylical of 31 December 1930, Casti
connubi, had reiterated the sinful character of abortion, including for medical
reasons. This position was reconfirmed by decree of the Holy See on 2
December 1940. The case outlined by Fiora could be an exception, but only
further investigation could verify this.
The historical data examined so far forces us to consider another issue. If
abortion formed part of a female sub-culture for long periods of time, this
raises the question of what networks served to transmit the related practice of
contraception and abortion. From the sources we have at our disposal, it
appears that the information was never passed on from mother to daughter
and even less from one social class to another (as if birth control were the effect
of working-class women adapting to the pattern of the middle classes).41 On
the contrary, the information was passed on by fellow workers, friends and
neighbours, who made up the informal networks surrounding those of the
mid wives and women with expertise. Apart from these networks, which were
more directly involved in abortion, it appears that there was widespread
acceptance and therefore complicity of friends and neighbours towards the
woman who practised it. Obviously, silent complicity is not the same thing as
active support, as we have seen. The responsibility of taking the decision and
finding out about methods was left by her husband and family entirely to the
woman. Some testimonies, however, allude to the presence in the neighbour-
hood of mid wives who were known to be willing to perform abortions. This
tolerance was undoubtedly due to the common acknowledgement that the
practice was unavoidable if one wanted to ensure that one's family was
planned in keeping with harsh economic realities, and maintain one's dignity.
The decision to practise birth control could find support in (and at the same
time reinforce) the ideal of themselves as workers who were provident and
capable of self-control, who rejected with disgust the image of large families
and the 'prolific mothers' rewarded every year by Mussolini for their 10-14
children. Fascist propaganda, however, continued to present birth control as
the result of selfishness and over-indulgence, painting a picture of frivolous
woman who preferred beautiful clothes and puppies to children.42 This
propaganda was chiefly aimed at middle-class women - above all white-collar
* A punishment within the Church, which, for example, prevented ordination.
Resistance to demographic policy 173
workers experiencing emancipation both at work and in their spare time but
it certainly also affected working-class women.
The pressures which women had to fight against in the inter-war period to
affirm their right to control their own fertility were not limited to those applied
by the regime's propaganda and social and fiscal policies and the police and
judicial repression. They also stemmed from the restructuring of medical
institutions mentioned in passing in Fiora's story. The central figure in her
account is the midwife, who acts as intermediary with the doctor and the
institution for the second birth, which endangered the mother's life.
The Fascist regime and its institutions were very well aware of the role of
midwives as intermediaries; they were able to keep in contact with all the
women, including the poorest who could not afford obstetricians and paedia-
tricians. The midwife represented, therefore, a key figure for the sucess of the
campaign and in the fight against the causes of the falling birth-rate, 'which
are found almost entirely in voluntary sterility and hence are of a moral
order'. In 1938, ONMI (the National Maternity and Childhood Trust) was
concerned, therefore, to set up practical and educational refresher courses for
midwives which lasted 10-15 days. The year after, the director of the
organisation, Carlo Bergamaschi, advised taking advantage of the training
given on those courses, Tor the purposes of the struggle against abortion,
stillbirths and infantile mortality', by attaching the midwives to the Trust's
clinics. In 1940 a new code of practice for the profession was introduced which
conferred on midwives the task of watching over mother and baby till the age
of three, but required the doctor to intervene in cases of irregularity of any
kind in the course of pregnancy, or on the slightest suspicion of abortion. 43
They were simply moves by the regime to transform the role of midwives and
manipulate their wealth of social knowledge for its own ends.
The testimonies also make clear the trend towards hospital births which
became pronounced in the 20 years between the wars. Angela had her
children between 1912 and 1920: 'we didn't go to hospital, then, did we. It was
a source of shame. They only took you to hospital if the birth didn't go well,
but otherwise all the women stayed at home!' This was not only a question of
traditional behaviour, it was also due to the lack of social services and
financial difficulties. The trend for hospital births, moreover, did not bring
improvement in every sense, despite the advantage of more hygienic con-
ditions. In addition, there was also the regime forced on the patients, the
paternalism of the doctors and the authoritarianism of the sisters.
Anna had to stay in hospital a long time before the birth:
And so just imagine! I'd been inside a month, a month, with labour pains, hadn't I! I
can tell you that sometimes it took me so badly, I was crawling up the wall with pain!
Then the sisters understood I was really ill, because if I ... when I wasn't feeling bad,
started working, ironing, embroidering, cleaning, washing up. They didn't think I was
lazy, not me, because sometimes it was them who said to me: 'Look Anna, go and lie
down for a bit!5 They didn't let anyone but they let me go ...
174 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
Clotilde, who was subjected to exhausting tests to check whether she was
fertile, also recalls in her testimony the sufferings and humiliations inflicted on
women in the medical institutions as well, by a regime which piled on the
pressure to have children:
At that time there was only the old San Giovanni, there was no maternity hospital,
none at all, none. And so we went to the professor there and he looked at us both like
this, and then he goes: 'We'll keep her in' and he sends him home. They made me stay
there for seven days, there in the hospital. They put me through the works.
Then the last day but one I said to him: 'Listen, Professor, I'll die if you make me
stay here another day' and he said to me: 'Moncalierese, keep calm, tomorrow I'll let
you go home.' He always said: 'Moncalierese' to me, he called me that. And then he
came the following day, he had it all written down for me and stamped by him. He put
that I have an underdeveloped pelvis set wrongly.
Clotilde's recollection expresses the distance between the doctor and patient,
which is accentuated by the difference in sex: the professor at the old San
Giovanni makes this explicit, belittling the woman by referring to her by her
place of birth (Moncaliere) and by using the familiar tu form. Relationships
with midwives, who shared the women's dispassionate but unspoken percep-
tion of the human body, were undoubtedly more familiar and reassuring.
This perception is reproduced in the memory of the body. Despite the
reticence in using many terms, because they were not in the habit of
mentioning bodily functions and parts in public where allusion very often was
enough to make yourself understood, the memory is clear and unfaltering,
even when referring to taboo subjects. Many people who have collected oral
sources have already noted that memory comes into its own when people recall
bodily gestures and actions, especially those related to work. As far as less
public aspects of physical activity are concerned, such as sexuality, but also
eating, censorship and silences intervene that often give a hint of a calm and
assured conception of their bodies. The lack of verbal expression should not
therefore be directly interpreted in relation to taboos and repressive censor-
ship, which, today, are conceived of as linked to an ill-defined and partial
identity, but to a profoundly different idea of the body which needs exploring.

4 Features of abortion in the Fascist period

The qualitative sources, the oral testimonies and the written reports of the
same trials call on us to read the quantitative data on the overall incidence of
abortion more circumspectly. As is well known (and the discussion in Italy in
the period leading up to the law on the voluntary termination of pregnancy
passed in 1978 has served as a reminder) it is particularly difficult to make
quantitative assessments in this field. In 1925, Guglielmo Tagliacarne tried to
calculate the number of infanticides, abandoned children and abortions from
the crime statistics and found extraordinary confusion in these sectors. He
Resistance to demographic policy 175
observed that for no other offence did the figures which appeared in the
statistics stray so far from reality, as they did for abortion, while the different
method of collecting judicial statistics did not allow for credible compari-
Antonio Visco, 15 years later, complained of the difficulty of obtaining
accurate data in his survey of the legal, medical and political aspects of
abortion. He attributed this to the 'near impunity that the offence enjoys5,
since it easily evades discovery and punishment because of the difficulties of
verification both by the police and judiciary.
Proving the substance of this offence seems terribly delicate and disturbing, and is the
source of daily debate in the chambers ofjustice.
Even in the case of confessions or denunciation, proceedings often had to end
in acquittal for lack of evidence or suspect medical evidence. Visco reluctantly
admitted that 'you cannot speak of a crimen silentii because no-one can be
compelled to act as a spy or policeman' 45 in offences other than crimes against
the state.
It is obvious that the intensified repression resulting from the Rocco Code of
1930 forced all abortion still further underground, making the criminal data
even less representative. The Rocco Code incorporated abortion under a new
heading, personally proposed by Mussolini, of'crimes against the health and
purity of the race'. It was classified under crimes against the person and
against honour in the abrogated Zanardelli Code of 1889, and in other
previous codes had been included among crimes against family order (the
Sardinian Code of 1859, article 545, 301) or against the person (Tuscan Code
article 321, 323).
Apart from this important modification, the new law was more severe. It
provided for the punishment of criminal intent (incitement to, and aiding and
abetting abortion) even when there was no direct involvement. There was no
provision for abortion for medical reasons, since the clause in 'urgent cases'
was considered sufficient. Finally, repression was to be intensified by obliging
doctors to denounce abortions (except those of the distant past) as well as by
police surveillance and judicial severity. The judges, however, had to be
repeatedly reminded in circulars from the Minister of Justice not to let
themselves 'be led astray by a misplaced feeling of compassion or pity'. The
Turin judiciary, in particular, acted the most leniently in this matter and was
attacked several times by the minister and by the public prosecutor of the
Appeal Court in the city for not recognising the importance of the declining
birth-rate and for imposing inadequate penalties given the seriousness of the
In 1938, it was observed that despite the repression, abortion was spreading
from the better-off classes to the proletariat; so much so, in fact, that an
intense debate took place in the second half of the 1930s on the proposal to
176 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
make it compulsory to declare all pregnancies as an antidote to abortion. The
supporters of the proposal were aware of the serious drawbacks that would
arise from its implementation. Visco wondered how to put it into practice:
The pregnancies which should be kept under surveillance are those which escape our
notice because pregnant women take good care not to report them. Neither would it be
easy to apply penal sanctions, because they could use the excuse that they were not
sure of being pregnant.
The 'honourable Professor Palmieri', one of the supporters of the proposal,
also became aware of the problems. He had bitterly to admit another possible
drawback: that declaring a pregnancy could, in practice, lead to admission of
adultery, not to mention the fact that compulsion 'could even give rise to or
reinforce the insane intention of terminating the pregnancy5.47
Such interference in the private lives of citizens and the right of women to
dispose of their own bodies was consciously presented by Fascist legislators as
a step forward in overcoming 'so-called liberal democratic and individualistic'
rights, according to which 'the citizen is the sole and sovereign guardian of the
right to dispose of his physical person'. After the Rocco Code came into effect,
the role of safe-guarding the race became a function of state law. Even where
the body of the individual person was concerned, public interest had to
triumph and affirm the supremacy of the State (wiping out, among other
things, every vestige of confidentiality in the medical profession).48
These intentions were, however, frustrated by the decisions many indi-
viduals took about their bodies and their lives. It is evident from incomplete
figures which we have at our disposal how vain the attempts to eliminate
abortion were. At the end of the 1920s, the overall abortion rate in Italy was
calculated at around 18% of all pregnancies, but even then it was thought to
be on the increase as a consequence of increased female employment in
industry and commerce, the spread of venereal disease and, above all, illegal
abortion. 49 Ten years later abortion was thought to have roughly tripled over
the previous 20 years, but the same quantitative premises still continued to
hold: of an abortion rate equal to 15% of births at term, or around 150,000
abortions a year, despite the drop in the total number of births. 50 These
figures are obviously only conjectures. Nevertheless, available documentation
does offer some interesting clues, in relative terms, however much it underes-
timates the absolute level of abortion.
Consider for example the data in table 1 provided by the Chief Executive of
Public Health. These figures are striking, above all, for the progressive
increase in the absolute number of abortions in the first column, even though
it is less marked than the official estimate of 150,000 abortions a year.
However, the second column illustrates the decline for medical reasons - a
cause for public self-congratulation by the Fascist regime. It attributed the
decline to improved maternity care for pregnant women, both in the field of
health and at work. But it should be remembered that abortion for medical
Resistance to demographic policy 177
Table 1

Total Number of Abortions* For Medical Suspected Induced

Year (including miscarriage) Reasons Abortions Abortions

1932 66,679 2,041 271 754

1933 68,440 1,717 150 731
1935 73,754 1,467 1,425 15
1936 75,812 1,317 2,039 13
1937 86,011 988 2,647 22
1938 90,334 894 2,547 45
1939 91,987 847 1,406 33

reasons was performed far less after it was confirmed that, in most cases, heart
disease and pulmonary tuberculosis were compatible with pregnancy.51
If abortions for medical reasons are deducted from the overall figures, a
substantial number remain, though it is difficult to assess how many were
abortions and how many were miscarriages. Even if one adds the number of
induced abortions to the number of suspected cases, it comes to something in
the order of 1,000-2,000. This is a very low figure compared to the tens of
thousands of abortions in total, which at this point of the calculations should
be taken as referring overwhelmingly to miscarriages. What we know from the
qualitative sources puts these figures in doubt, bearing in mind that many
abortions which were actually induced could have been declared as 'miscar-
riages' to avoid any contingent complications. Other quantitative sources also
confirm this doubt. We find among the scarce data, which is broken down on a
comparative basis, the figures of the Maternity Fund's subsidies to female
industrial workers and employees in cases involving abortion (including
miscarriage). These cover subsidised abortions by women between the ages of
15 and 50 (excluding employees who received a monthly salary above 800
lire); that is, those occurring between three and six months gestation.
Therefore the abortions taking place in the first three months, which were
more frequent and less easy to verify, were excluded. It turns out from this
partial data that there was a decline in miscarriage and abortion for medical
reasons, relative to the number of pregnancies, from 3.5% between 1912 and
1915 to 2.5% between 1930 and 1934. This is less than half the number
indicated by the Executive of Public Health. The decline was evident for the
whole period 1912-34, except for the war years 1916-19, when the number of
abortions (including miscarriages) rose noticeably.
The same source indicates a higher rate of miscarriage for the period
1912-34 in Central Italy and the South than in Northern Italy and the
* In Italian spontaneous abortion is the term given to miscarriage.
178 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
Central Italy: 28-40 per 1,000 excluding the Marches which had the highest
level nationally: 64 per 1,000.
The South: 38-43.5 per 1,000, excluding Lucania.
Northern Italy: 23-29 per 1,000.
The Islands: with significant differences between the two main ones:
Sardinia: 19 per 1,000 - the lowest level nationally
Sicily: 34.5 per l,000.52
These statistical indications, however fragmentary, confirm the suspicion
gained from the qualitative sources that the overall increase, particularly for
Northern Italy and the working class, was due, in reality, to induced abortion.
That being the case, the progressive increase suggested by the Public Health
figures would be far greater, in fact, than the data drawn from court cases
would indicate. The fall in the number of prosecutions, far from proving that
anti-abortion legislation had curbed the practice of abortion, could have been
caused by a mixture of factors, such as greater caution and a refusal to speak
on the part of potential offenders, and by leniency on the part of the judiciary,
not to mention the difficulty of proving the offence.
Similar indications have also emerged from research on other data.
According to Tagliacarne's examination of criminal data for the period
1906-17, induced abortion was already more widespread in the cities of
Northern Italy than in the rural regions and the South. The available data
shows that abortion was one side of the picture, and infanticide and child
abandonment the other. Abortion was more common in areas where the other
two were less evident, that is, the North and urban regions as well as among
the literate social classes. Infanticide and abandonment offences were com-
mitted particularly by the poorest, the least educated, and the unskilled
members of the population. On the other hand, the offence of procuring
abortion which was almost unknown in the country, was more common
among women in urban occupations (prostitutes, manual workers, domestic
servants) and among the better educated who enjoyed a higher economic and
social status (shopkeepers, those in the independent professions, artists).
Piedmont (Casale and Turin together) was, in that period, ahead of the other
regions in abortion offences (the annual average went up from 1.72 to 4.02
compared to the previous period, while the national average went up from 0.9
to2.41). 53
Subsequent data has largely confirmed these hypotheses for the 1920s as
well. Spallanzini, who worked on criminal data in 1934, found a continuous,
general increase in cases of inducted abortion for the period 1890-1930; these
increased from 153 cases certified by the Inquiring Magistrates' Office
between 1890 and 1892 (equal to 0.5 per 100,000 inhabitants) to 575 cases in
1928-30 (equal to 1.4 per 100,000 inhabitants). In particular he confirms the
data on literacy in relation to abortion offences between 1921 and 1923 (which
shows the preponderance of literate over illiterate persons among those
convicted). In the occupational breakdown, midwives came first (113.21 per
Resistance to demographic policy 179
100,000 in the same profession) followed by 'those employed in manual
services' (1.15), those employed in industry (0.70), in agriculture (0.51) and
in commerce (0.25), while domestic servants were only 0.34 per 100,000
inhabitants. In the geographical distribution, the highest total was found in
Liguria (2.2 per 100,000 inhabitants), Piedmont and Lazio (2.1), Lombardy
and the Marches (1.8), and the lowest in Sardinia (0.6), Sicily, Campania and
Emilia (0.9). 54
For the 1930s, we have some surveys at our disposal based on limited
samples, which are actual inquiries carried out on groups of women in
hospitals and clinics. Vittoria Perotti Porrera's inquiry for Turin extended the
surveys referred to by Allaria, utilising data drawn from 4,912 mothers of
babies taken to the Royal Paediatric Institute of Turin University between
1926 and 1937. More than four-fifths of the women were housewives, largely
from the working class, but they were rarely factory workers. A fifth of them
had had 'miscarriages', the same proportion as that of married women without
children in the City of Turin, and the 'miscarriages' had occurred among the
most fertile women. The number of abortions overall corresponded to a tenth
of all pregnancies. More than half were put down to unknown causes, that is,
causes which (in Professor Allaria's terms) 'the woman does not know how to
say or does not want to admit'. Finally, it seems women's factory work did not
play any obvious part in causing the 'miscarriages'. It turns out from this data
that abortion was widely practised as a form of birth control and was used by
married women with children, who were members of the working class (and
who were only 'housewives' for short periods of time). It seems likely that, in
Allaria's words, at least half of the 'miscarriages' were the product of the 'will
of the pregnant woman'. 55
In the statistics relating to other industrial cities, especially Milan, women
industrial workers, although not at the top of the table for rates of miscarriage,
came out quite high up - below other urban occupations (domestic servants)
but above peasants. These do not refer to miscarriages related to occu-
pation. 56 We can link these pointers to the general data on regional and class
differentiation according to family size. The average size of the urban family
was a unit of 3.55 compared to 5.40 for the rural family in 1934. According to
Livio Livi, the area with the lowest birth-rate from 1931 to 1938 was centred
on Pavia and Alexandria, and included Turin, Milan and the provinces of
Liguria and Piedmont. Working-class families turned out generally to be the
least fertile after white-collar workers and independent professionals, both in
the census of 1931 and in an inquiry in 1936.57
The average child-bearing rate in Turin for 1934-7 (1.66 legitimate
children per family) was less than half of the urban national average (3.5).
According to the 1931 census, the average number of children had by married
women reached its lowest point in Turin: 2.26 (in Milan it was 2.69, whilst
cities like Rome with 3.29, and Naples with 4.22 approached the national
average of 4.11). More than one-fifth of Turinese married women were
180 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
childless (almost one-sixth in Milan). The lowest child-bearing rates in
Turin, too, were among wives of industrial workers (with an average number
of children per family, in cities of 100,000 inhabitants and over, of 2.96 and a
rate of married women without children of 164 per 1,000 inhabitants) of
white-collar workers (2.19, and 210 per 1,000) and independent professionals
(2.31, and 216 per l,000). 58
Mussolini, therefore, had the chance to slate the city of 'toro', the bull, for
not living up to its names, and to accuse the inhabitants of being selfish and
indifferent to the fate of the empire. Fascist propaganda frequently counter-
posed 'rich and well-endowed' Turin where the birth-rate was 14.6 per 1,000
in 1936 to the poor but altruistic peasants of Lucania, where the birth-rate
was 33.7 per 1,000 in the same year. The least fertile social strata in the urban
areas of Northern Italy were also accused in the 'anti-bourgeois' propaganda
of trying to forget their own rural origins by accepting the bourgeoisie's
values. The Tar-sighted attitude', which Tagliarcarne detected in 1925 as
underlying the spread of neo-Malthusian practice in Northern Italy, was seen
as the exact opposite from a Fascist outlook. Luzzatto-Fegiz wrote in 1937:
'Whilst white-collar workers have, for a long time, held first place in the
infertility tables, industrial workers, who are rapidly losing all trace of their
rural origins, have recently fallen low in the averages (for child-bearing).
Salaried and waged workers are not masters of their futures nor of those of
their children'. 59
Given the present state of research, it is not possible to say with certainty to
what degree the decline in the rate of child-bearing amongst the Turin
working class was due to abortion or to other contraceptive methods.
Moreover, the tendency to defer marriage and stay single which was
increasing, especially in cities, should be taken into account.
The quantitative sources show, without doubt, an increase in abortion, and
the data which has been broken down indicates a fairly constant proportion of
abortions among women from the urban working class. However, all these
figures are often contradictory, speculative and full of gaps. The qualitative
sources, on the other hand, suggest that abortion represented an important
step in women assuming responsibility for birth-control, and testify to the
costs entailed. The different characteristics of these two kinds of sources
underlies the fact, observed by McLaren, that historians do not consider
abortion a respectable issue, because it is difficult to quantify and they are
unwilling to acknowledge the active role of women in population planning,
especially where prominent birth-control movements were missing from the
national tradition.
A particular form of subjectivity is expressed through abortion that is
fundamental to planning one's life in relation to having or not having children
and at what times. A decision like that of having an abortion implies the
individual's capacity to make choices which are not completely self-
Resistance to demographic policy 181
determined but, while taking account of economic, biological and cultural
determinants, allow a degree of control over one's own body and life. This
approach is not only informed by the sources closest to the individual, but
allows otherwise insuperable dichotomies to be overcome. For example it
transcends the dichotomy between the econometric models that treat demo-
graphic phenomena as almost natural processes or as totally determined by
factors beyond individual control, and the Malthusian interpretations, which
attribute the possibility of complete self-determination to the will of the
individual alone, as though her freedom were exercised in a vacuum. It is no
accident that this ideology had to resort to arguments about irrationality,
laziness, lack of awareness and unbridled sexuality, in order to explain the
demographic behaviour of poorer classes and nations. 60 The oral sources,
however, suggest that great changes like those that went under the name of
demographic transition did not spread like a contagious infection, but owed
something to individual decisions. At the same time, they record the difficul-
ties of taking such decisions - the effect of externally determined factors on
them, and the possibility of setbacks when they were put into practice.
In this light, we are better able to grasp the motivations of our subjects,
whose memories were our starting point. Their attempt to attach an anti-
fascist meaning to birth control does not have to imply attributing conscious
awareness and forward planning to the decisions taken at that time. The
constant stress on the importance of anti-fascism in Italian history in the last
decades and, more recently, on the question of the liberation of women, have
probably contributed to this emerging trend. The wide-ranging debate which
arose around the law on the voluntary termination of pregnancy in 1978 has
also contributed to this. All these different influences were brought into play
by the relationship between interviewee and interviewer, coming together,
albeit in an undefined and inconclusive way, to explore these issues.
The task is to sort out what is true from what is distorted by memory. The
fact that the meaning of actions is perceived with the wisdom of hindsight,
when they had not been so clear and conscious for our subjects in the past,
does not diminish the importance of their intuition in the present. The idea
implicit in the memory is that certain forms of behaviour directly challenged
the Fascist government's programmatic intentions, thereby turning private
decisions into political acts. These actions, whatever the individual inten-
tions, objectively tended to redefine the political sphere, denying its separ-
ateness and showing up its contradictions. When the regime declared that
certain areas of private life were of public concern, it could not but become
vulnerable to attitudes that, in practice, revealed the political nature of the
private sphere. Paradoxically, Fascist power, more than the liberal State
(with its principles of the sovereignty of the individual) underlined the fact
that the personal life of the individual was enmeshed in social relations. By
charging women with the responsibility for producing children for the
182 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
empire, Fascism showed them to be potential rebels against demographic
Malthusian behaviour did not, therefore, mean taking up a political
position directly hostile to Fascism. The same forms of behaviour would also
have come into conflict with the democratic republic which arose in 1945.
However, birth control was a kind of practical critique of women's oppression.
It showed that the separation of politics from everyday life, enshrined in the
legal system underpinning democratic institutions, protected elitism and
privilege. A politics which excluded everyday concerns and failed to recognise
the interdependence of the public and private sphere inevitably limited the
range of issues and social forces deemed 'political'. While it would be wrong to
follow memory in automatically ascribing political motivations to actions
challenging one aspect of the given order, it usefully reminds us that such
actions call for new forms of management, control and power.
5 ** Mussolini's visit to Mirafiori

1 The tradition
But for the Fascist period, was there something in particular, something that comes to
mind as regards Fascism itself?
OLINTO BONGI I remember when the Duce came . . .
Ah, you remember?
Yes, the first time I remember Mussolini he had boots on and there was the anvil.
He was with the elder Agnelli, Senator Agnelli . . . And I remember when he came
again and there was the fiasco because the workers had started to open their eyes when
the Mirafiori [car plant] was inaugurated. Mirafiori, yes . . . yes, yes, he came, but the
workers gave him a moral slap in the face which he deserved . . . Eh, and often
indifference makes you pay more dearly than a slap in the face.
And Mussolini came to visit...
MARIA CONTI CAFASSO Mussolini visited Turin and . . . Mirafiori, when they
opened Mirafiori. First he came to Lingotto, I was on the fifth floor, they brought...
they made a huge anvil . . . and they gave him the hammer and he became an
engineering worker . . . And what poses he struck! And they made us come down
from the fifth floor to . . . find Mussolini there, when you were meant to clap, but
nobody clapped! Right there, there was something that I felt was already marked, this
thing, which in some demonstrations they spoke about, it was a let-down, and he
couldn't stand Turin, why? Because he had lived in Turin, he knew that working class
. . . there was a working class which was experienced, educated, in fact the first factory
councils were here, and he was in touch with these people, he knew them well, he
couldn't stand them! So much so that when they took the Mint away, which was a big
blow for Turin, he took away work; the Mint he took it to Rome. People said: 'But in
Turin . . . if Mussolini could, he'd take away the whole of Fiat's as well!' But Fiat has its
roots there, whatever he does, Fiat stays in Turin.
Why couldn't he stand us? Because he knew us! [...] And then he came to Mirafiori.
I think at the ARC I [a left-wing cultural organisation], they'll have written about it all
over the place, he came to Mirafiori, just think, no-one worked there at that time, we
went to inaugurate it. I'll show you. Now there are trams that go down corso Unione
Sovietica, then there was nothing, so in the evening they gave us a card to go and hand
in at Mirafiori and whoever didn't go was counted as absent, that's how it was. So from
here, I and a lot of others, in Via Passo Buole, on foot, in single file like this, without
saying a word, disheartened, you had to take the card, there was no excuse . . . 'Don't
mention doctors, don't say anything, unless you're dying and they're taking you to
184 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

hospital, that there card, you've got to take it to Mirafiori.' It was a horrible morning,
it was raining, so, in single file, you just didn't see anyone talking, nobody chatted, you
were disheartened, and we reached Mirafiori - it was quite a way to Mirafiori, wasn't
it. Once there, in the mud, because the central area wasn't there y e t . . . there was the
earth, all night it rained, and we all got home muddy just from being there. And so you
had to clock in at 8, we had to be there by 8 . . . He arrived at 10 or so, two hours there,
in that mud, then before he finished we came home at midday. I won't tell you what a
state we were in!
So . . . it was like that, then they put in the Fascists in the front, to welcome him, they
made him a platform and . . . I was in that corner there, and they told us to clap when
he arrived, we had to applaud as well when he spoke . . . Instead we were all dead men,
nobody did any of these things, then one fine moment, it was when he spoke, and so . . .
he did this . . . saluted . . . 'then you will eat with tables, and . . . on tables with flowers
on', he said all these stupid things - and Agnelli, the father, Giovanni Agnelli, the dad
of the present one, he was there, next to him - and he says: 'People of Turin, do you
remember the Milan speech?' I don't know even now what the Milan speech was. He
made a speech in Milan, it seems he spoke about the working class, I've never found
anyone, I'd like... who knows, maybe Comollo will know about these things? Comollo
is the one who lived in Gramsci's time, don't you know him? Pietro Comollo! Ah, I'd
really like to ask you because I've never been able to discover why, take this speech for
example, some say one thing, some say another... I'd like to know, it's obvious that he
spoke about something. 'Do you remember?' It's said you should've replied 'yes', but
us badly informed people said nothing, what was I to know, and then he said: 'If you
don't remember, re-read it!' And then he turned round, turned to go, and then
Giovanni Agnelli took him by the shoulders, and asked him again to address us, he
came there, did this and then went away, he didn't say another word. He paid for it,
I'm telling you, but it wasn't pre-arranged because . . . I don't know what would have
happened! Chaos, instead we . . . whoever believed in their work and in their
organisations that you knew, many comrades were dead, you were left with this insult,
these . . . people it was a shame because they'd somehow have saved themselves by
their ability, honesty and instead they were dead . . . your heart died with the people
you'd seen disappear, and so without doing much organising, but it was inside you, if
you found people . . . those that were aware gave their support, so . . . it came
spontaneously, we . . . for us at Mirafiori it came spontaneously.

The two testimonies refer to the visits of 25 October 1932, when Mussolini
spoke at the Lingotto plant, and 15 May 1939, the inauguration of the new
Fiat Mirafiori. These visits when the dictator and the workers came into direct
contact have become legendary, and they are remembered as symbols of
cultural resistance. Events of this kind are separated out from everyday life.
Their exceptional nature is analogous to a ritual in which everyday life comes
face to face with political power, and authority goes to great lengths to put
itself on display. It is ordinary people, in their everyday existence, who are
meant to benefit. So, although these events are not simply part of the routine
of everyday life, they have aspects in common that underpin the decisions
made at the centres of political power.
Fascism, by attributing particular importance to contact with the masses,
including the physical rapport with those crowds in the piazza, and by
politicising everyday life in various ways, changed and increased the status
Mussolini's visit to Mirafiori 185
attached to public events. 'The people' were not simply required to attend, as
with the House of Savoy's royal parades, but were to act out their part to the
full, in word and gesture. Furthermore, Fascism inflated and exaggerated the
historical significance of these occasions. It is not surprising, therefore, that
such symbolic importance was attached to them in people's memories.
With the passage of time and the repetition of the story, Mussolini's visits to
Turin have turned into a single major confrontation. The tradition that has
thereby grown around it is rooted in the beginning of the period when it stands
as a representation of the historic show-down between the Turin working
class and Fascism.
ANTONIO (born 1920) He had already come ... but I was too young to remember
when he came. I heard from the old people that they whistled at him ... eh, they
whistled and he said that Turin would have to starve to death, I heard the old people
who said this, was it in '26 or '27? Those years there, the first time he came ... and
Turin would have to starve to death, he made that speech. Then there was Senator
Agnelli, since he wanted to take Fiat, he wanted to take it away from Turin, Agnelli
told him, the Senator, the grandfather of this one ...
Yes, yes, the old Giovanni Agnelli ...
Giovanni Agnelli and he said to him: 'No, go back to Palazzo Venezia, Fiat stays
here.' And in fact here it has stayed ... And in all the streets there was, in corso Regina,
corso Vittorio, there was all the posters of the underground, underground material,
saying that 'The donkey of Predappio has brayed' ... Eh, they put up all that kind of
thing ... they told me so, I wasn't around.
Yes, but you said that you heard it from the old people. Does that mean your dad,
your grandad?
Yes my dad and then all the people older than me, right, they used to tell me ...
Because your dad worked at Fiat?
Ah yes, my dad worked at Fiat, that's it.
The initial legendary episode is the visit of 25 October 1923 when Mussolini
made that journey which, according to Piero Gobetti, was, 'in intention and
declaration, a march on Turin'. 1 Less than a year had passed since the bloody
massacres that the Fascists had carried out right in Barriera di Nizza, the
quartiere surrounding the Lingotto factory, the vanguard of Italian industry.
Mussolini arrived there after visiting other parts of Fiat - the iron-works, the
steel-works and the engine-works. There is no written evidence that mentions
the whistles spoken of in the oral tradition, in relation to this 'fleeting but none
the less attentive visit', as it is described in the official Fiat literature. 2 The
oral version is probably an interpretation of the facts according to a mental
grid like that found in the stereotypical opposition between Turin and Rome.
The closest and most explicit account, that of Avanti! describes, with
satisfaction, the 'disdainful coldness of the Turin workers towards the head of
the anti-Socialist government'. The visit was organised so that Mussolini
should pass the workshops when they were busy. Not long after he had visited
one floor, most of the workers stopped work and went down to the central
courtyard. Here, they heard the speech that reminded them of the importance
186 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
for their futures of the success of Fiat products, and warned them not to forget
the Fatherland any more than they would their own mothers; all the while the
6,000 workers 'remained impassive'. Perhaps some of them 'thought back',
following Avanti/'s advice, to that other speech Mussolini gave, in late 1914, at
the rooms of the General Association of Workers, 'when he had not yet left the
proletarian ranks'. Fearing provocation in the heart of the Barriera which had
experienced the 'horrors of the massacre of proletarians' in December 1922,
Avanti/ expressed the hope that 'the Turin proletariat will know how to keep in
Mussolini's presence the demeanour that would have been advocated by
"Comrade Mussolini" in 1914'. The advice was followed. But, if on 25
October the Duce was 'frowning and nervous' because the Lingotto workers
were 'immovable in their impassivity' (while only visitors, clerks and man-
agers applauded), the behaviour was dignified to the point of 'frightening
rather than irritating him'. 3
Piero Gobetti recalls that Mussolini wanted to take the workers' silence as
an initial victory: 'If, in 12 months, I have succeeded in making them listen to
me, next year they will be applauding me', he is reported to have said (on that
occasion) to a Liberal friend who was also a journalist. 4 Gobetti interpreted
that silence differently. He saw it as a sign of a social and psychological
attitude, and of a shared culture in which the landscape and history of Turin
were clearly defined and fixed by the discipline of the factory:
Fiat's is on the extreme outskirts of Turin. One goes there on a tram which crosses the
entire city without passing through the centre, and always via out-of-the-way streets
which you have to search for.
One passes the Valentino in the fog, even in the late morning; a northern route
without Italy's fine sunshine, without relaxation of landscape. Heretical climate: men
benumbed who do not have time to doze and whom the cold has made angular and
almost awkward in their hurry, just like in the place where Pinocchio finds his
industrious fairy. The Valentino would offer Roman consolations but only in the
afternoon, with the sunshine, when the nannies take their tiny tots there and pass the
time listening to the deceitful and delightful romances of students and petty officers
out for a walk [...] The workers pass by in the morning, their eyes concentrated on the
newspaper which still smells of the oily print-room inks. When they come out after
eight hours of toil, no charms of Nature could reconcile them to the world. There is
another poetry in their hearts, which disdain the trembling smiles and delights of
formal gardens. Their psychology is dictated by the machine and factory-life.5
That psychology included dedication to education, the work ethic, the
spirit of self-sacrifice, class pride and intransigence, and the workers'
awareness of their own indispensability. This could generate an 'aristocratic
idealism' which was a source of resistance in bad times, but also the 'quest for
power' in better times. So, Gobetti goes beyond the commonplace expressions
about the character of the Turin workers - stereotypes we have met in the
life-histories of this research. He is hardly touched by the trepidation which
often filled intellectuals who thought of workers as essentially different from
themselves and as destined to bring about a new world. Gobetti thus recalls
Mussolini's visit to Mirqfiori 187
the impression that he had of the workers at Lingotto on one of his visits to
Fiat's that year (1923):
While our guide is giving explanations about the machinery and pronouncing
impressive statistics, I am looking at the men. They all have an air of mastery, an
unstudied air of assurance. It seems that they see us as ridiculous dilettantes to be
viewed with contempt. They have the dignity which comes with work, habituation to
sacrifice and fatigue. Silence, precision, uninterrupted concentration. A new psychol-
ogy is tempered, in keeping with this rhythm of life a spirit of tolerance and mutual
dependence constitutes its austere background. Meanwhile, long-sufferance combined
with exasperation sustains the virtues shaped in struggle, and the instinct of
self-defence in politics. When Mussolini came to seek their applause, these workers
must have looked at him with the mute disdain which I now read in their eyes. They
know how to maintain their distance.
Precisely because he considered that silence as a form of behaviour with its
history and cultural tradition (and not simply as related to a moment in time),
Gobetti was able to foresee what would recur in a more striking and
disturbing way many years later:
His Excellency Mussolini is deluding himself. The Fiat workers will not applaud him.
They will not engage in battle because they are isolated in Italy like the Communist
leaders. They are heretics. In a deep and painful way they are foreigners. They will
look at him again, another time, in silence, without defiance, without rebelliousness.6
The strength of the oral tradition about the Mirafiori episode comes from
joining up the points of the circle begun with Gobetti's prophesy. In this way,
the beginning and end of the story of the struggles between the two
protagonists - the working class and the dictator - are, in turn, welded
together and re-affirmed. Thus the Turin workers become the vanguard that
interprets and stands for the true attitude of the Italian working class - a
symbolic role, not without precedent in the history of this labour movement.
The visit of 1932 (marking the 10th anniversary of the March on Rome),
which came between those of 1923 and 1939, should have represented
Mussolini's real comeback. In fact, that is how it is represented by those who
remember it. Vercellotti, for example, remembers Mussolini quoting Garibal-
di's words: 'In front of that anvil, they put an anvil in front of him, he said:
"Though you whistled at me when I was in Turin many years ago, not now".'
The visit of 1932 is confused in many people's memories with the other two
visits, especially the last one. Eugenia Candellero recalls it clearly because it
gives her an additional means of affirming her image of herself as an arbiter
standing above the things of the world:
Then, the second time there, at Lingotto, they set up all the tents of ruby red velvet, if
you'd seen the stand, they put on a great show for him, and they really ... There were
one or two who said: 'But I heard another name, they didn't say Duce, they said
something else', and I told him: 'If you heard another name mentioned, keep it to
yourself, don't do ... It's not worth making a scene here now. Look, they gave him a
reception because they had to, and that's enough, that's enough already, otherwise
188 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
there's no end to it' . . . because they whistled at the Duce, and, so, you know, he
wanted to repeat what they'd said to him. A nasty word. For pity's sake, I'm not going
to say it, not even now. I was just nearby, I heard it, I said to him: 'Shut up, stop it,
behave, let's let them go, soon he'll be gone, that'll be the end of it, don't get yourself
known like that.'

On the basis of this testimony too, it would seem that dissent remained
latent and held in check, at the most coming out in changes made in names
and slogans. It is worth noting the defiance that animates Mussolini's
behaviour in the Luce documentary that reports the 1932 visit to Fiat
Lingotto. It differs from the truculent and self-assured behaviour that can be
seen in other documentaries of the period.7 The Duce strikes a sculpture-like
pose at the podium, which, as usual, is constructed in the form of an anvil. He
listens to Senator Agnelli, who reads his speech in a Piedmontese accent with
modest rhetorical flourishes ('The heart of the working people of Turin is
beating5). Mussolini starts by immediately confronting the situation: 'I will be
brief because you already heard my speech yesterday, and because I have a
full day.' The tone is curt and defiant. He goes on to explain the danger, the
threat that the old enmity represented for him: 'When my visit was first being
arranged, mention was also made of Fiat workers, and I said - the more
around me the better.' Timely, reassuring applause follows, but it is obvious
that it is still a matter of a trial of strength in which the past has not been
forgotten. The tension behind the defiance appears in the documentary;
Mussolini recalls his first visit and draws attention to the fact that, from that
time, a decade had passed. He reminds whoever did not believe that he would
last so long that it was only the first decade. The occasional enthusiastic shout
interrupts the speech, and Agnelli, paternal and embarrassed, signals for
silence by putting his finger to his lips, farcical signs of reconciliation, but with
an 'appearance of reality' that is not to be taken lightly.
Ten years later, Benedetto Croce reflected on the significance of these visits
to the factories, coming to a bitter assessment of the acceptance of Fascism:
'The working class accepted it; certainly no more, but neither any less than all
the others. It set aside the powerful weapon of the strike and let the head of the
new regime make an appearance and confidently walk around, even in
strongly working-class areas, and often to applause.' 8 No doubt it was the
symbolic significance of this almost physical contact that disturbed Croce,
and still disturbs anyone who watches the documentaries of those events
(even knowing in advance about probable distortions). Awareness in hind-
sight of the disparity between behaviour on such public occasions and widely
held political beliefs serves only to increase our unease, reminding us of the
forces at work in totalitarian regimes which fragment the personality of the
individual. For this very reason, we welcome, with a sense of relief, even the
smallest sign of integrity, such as an individual refusal to give a Fascist salute,
to which photographs of the period bear witness.
Mussolini's visit to Mirqfiori 189

For all these reasons, the events of Mirafiori, on the occasion of Mussolini's
third and last visit to Turin, take on a particular resonance. We must try to
reconstruct the social and historical context of that visit in order to fully
understand its significance.

2 An account of the events

The security measures for Mussolini's visit to Turin in 1939 were extremely
thorough and involved the mobilisation of an enormous police apparatus. As
for all similar occasions, all potential enemies of Fascism were arrested, while
during the visit all tenants of houses adjoining the Duce's route or where he
made his speeches were checked out. Already, weeks beforehand, a number of
agents were sent to check the efficiency of the security measures, identify
possible sources of risk, and to gather information on rumours and comments
circulating among the populace. They accompanied the Duce and his
entourage for the entire period of the tour of Piedmont, which lasted a week in
all. The situation was kept under observation even in the weeks that followed,
with additional checks being made by informants living in Milan and Genoa
who travelled there for that purpose. 9
The Mirafiori episode was the subject of confidential reports. Here, for
example, is a version given by an agent of the political police on the day after
the event:
Visit to Fiat's: The most notable feature of this visit was as follows - The workers were
assembled in the new building an hour-and-a-half before the arrival of the Duce. So
what happened initially was the usual for such occasions; every 10 minutes they
shouted: 'Here he is', 'Hurrah' etc. But when he actually did arrive, and appeared on
the podium, there was none of the welcome that there should have been on the part of
the 50,000 assembled workers. The Duce began his speech (with which you are
familiar), and towards the end, speaking of what would have been the regime's policy
for the working classes - unchanged from the one set out in the Milan speech in the
12th year [after the March on Rome, i.e. 1934; (Trans.)] - and asked: 'Do you
remember it?' But of the 50,000 who were present only 400 answered YES! So one saw
the Duce, fed-up, saying (to quote): 'Ifyou don't remember, re-read it.' And he left the
podium. It is true that he was called back by applause from the crowd, but by now the
event had taken place. I did not inform you about it straightaway yesterday because I
waited to hear comments from the townspeople.
In fact, since yesterday the comments have not been wanting. There are those who
say that Fascism will never get a hold on Turin (this is the anti-fascists speaking); the
Fascists are very nervous about what happened. And they are talking about the Fiat
events in every home (whatever the class).10
According to another version, dated 3 June and coming from Milan, the
applause came from a slightly more numerous group: 'The rumour has spread
that the Duce was not too pleased about his trip to Piedmont, above all
because of the reception from the working masses of the factories - a cold and
restrained reception. The Duce would have noticed this coldness of the
190 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

workforce at Fiat where he had been warmly applauded by only a thousand

workers, while the rest, some 50,000, remained with their arms folded.'
Some reports add amusing details about the situation: 'The gossip has it
that the Secretary of the Party, positioned behind the Duce, had repeatedly
signalled for a warmer response, but without success.' Other reports contain
information on the rest of the city which is not in the same vein as those
dealing with the events taking place in the factory. They speak of 'genuine
enthusiasm' and 'great shows of affection'.
The explanations of the Mirafiori events collected by police informers stress
the immediate and contingent causes of discontent (the rain, the long wait),
but they are not lacking in information about more salient aspects. For
example, a thorough report, sent from Turin and dated 29 May 1939, relates
the run-of-the-mill complaints about low wages, the standard of living, and
continuous price rises. These recur in informers' reports for the whole of the
second half of the thirties. In particular, reference to complaints about welfare
legislation is especially significant.
The law of 14 April 1939 had introduced a series of measures, due to be
enacted by 1944, which lowered the age threshold on old-age pensions (from
65 to 60 for men, and 60 to 55 for women); the pension for widows and
orphans was made transferable; the sum payable in the event of death, the
dole and benefits payable for families with tuberculosis victims - all these
were raised. Bonus-payments on occasion of marriage and maternity were
also increased and extended.11
It could be expected that these measures, taken shortly before the Duce's
visit to Turin, and launched with a barrage of publicity, would have created a
favourable, or at least not unfavourable attitude towards the regime. Instead,
police reports, after noting initial satisfaction in the wake of the
announcements in February 1939, record that the Turin workers considered
the welfare provisions a tax ploy intended by the government to be used
against the poorer members of society, and involved postponing the payment
of benefits owed after years of social insurance contributions. 12
The workers were accustomed, as previous reports suggested, to doing their
sums carefully before getting excited over apparent improvements offered by
the regime. In early 1939 they had reserved a similar response in the case of
the provision for the extra week's pay (the Christmas bonus) and the 10%
increase in earnings; that is, circumspect hope was then followed by the
conclusion that things were worse than before. It was said that both gains
were immediately lost through the rise in the price of necessities, especially
food. Apart from discontent over prices, there were also complaints about
quality, especially as regards bread which was an essential component of the
working-class diet. 13
The wage increases of early 1939 proved an illusion for many sections of
workers, bearing in mind that the large majority were piece-workers for whom
Mussolini's visit to Mirqfiori 191

a 'small change in the piece-rates made every wage-increase disappear into

thin air'. But the better-off workers, too, had reason to protest; the highly
skilled workers, who earned an average of 700 lire a month, were now taxed at
a new rate of 8% of their total earnings because of the increase. In
consequence, this group, far from gaining, lost money in taxes.14
Generally speaking, as we have said, worker discontent, especially at Fiat's,
was a constant feature of confidential reports emanating from police and
Fascist Party agents. One of the latter defined Lingotto in 1936 as 'a hotbed of
inhuman malcontent'.15 Positive comments are also recorded, but it is the
protests that punctuate the correspondence like a chorus.
It may well be the case that the informers do little more than make
generalisations based on opinions expressed in a few overheard conversations,
which they adapt according to certain fixed ideas of their own or in line with
particular interests. A stereotype of this kind appears in the way Lancia is
seen as 'closely following the Fascist path', while at Fiat's the opposite occurs
- a difference attributed to the attitudes of the respective owners. In a similar
vein is the proposal to disarm the '18 November' motor legion, composed of
Fiat workers 'who do not have a Fascist spirit', and who nurture 'hopes in a
non-Fascist future'. However, the reports on worker discontent in Turin (at
least as far as certain sections and certain periods are concerned; see chapter
3, section 2) are very numerous, and the reasons for this seem to be well
founded. In fact, in early 1938 there was an exchange of letters on the matter
between the Secretary of the PNF, Starace, and the Turin Federal Secretary,
Piero Gazzotti. Starace was informed of'defeatism on a large scale, especially
among the worker-element' due largely to the rise in the cost of living.
Gazzotti discounted the idea that 'current' discontent could have con-
sequences of that order. In March and April of that year an inquiry had to be
carried out on difficulties in the aircraft-shop at Fiat Lingotto; 'minor damage
to parts of military equipment undergoing construction' were, according to
one informer, the result of sabotage - 'the work of those discontented as a
result of serious economic hardship'. The technicians' findings, in line with
those of the officials of the General Committee for War Production attached to
the Fiat group, discounted sabotage, although arrangements were made for
further inquiries.16
However, all considered, discontent and mutterings were not thought likely
to grow into opposition and a serious threat to public order. The report dated
30 April 1939 from the Turin Chief of Police to the national Chief of Police,
two weeks prior to Mussolini's visit, summed up the situation in the province
after 1 January, playing down protest and trouble. It pointed to 'sporadic
demonstrations of individual discontent' in industry, drawing attention to the
slight diminution in unemployment (a fall from 19,541 in December to 17,345
in April). But this reduction was solely due to the work in preparation for the
Duce's visit and the new jobs created by the building of the new Fiat factories.
192 Oral sources and the events of everyday life

The Fiat Aeroplane Division had not been working at full capacity for months
and had suspended hundreds of workers, and at Fiat Lingotto, too, a part of
the workforce was employed for a shorter working week. Yet, the Chief of
Police maintained that the workers showed enthusiasm for the wage rises and
welfare measures.17
These assessments derived partly from the presumptions of a political
milieu more preoccupied with its own problems than with those of the country
at large. It was convinced that the working class was incapable of translating
economic protest into political opposition, unless pushed to do so by
outside agitators. It is true that the protracted protest reflected discontent
caused by an economic situation which remained serious from the second half
of 1936 until the war, and yet it was not translated into active forms of
opposition.18 However, this assessment should be discarded if one is to avoid
superficial affirmations. The problem is not to decide whether this discontent
was sufficient in itself to crystallise opposition, but whether it prepared the
ground on which political and trade union opposition could flourish (as
happened with the strikes of 1943). It is shortsighted to simply see the
discontent as marring but not upsetting acquiescence to the regime without
noting that it fed and stimulated cultural opposition. If this was weak on the
surface, it was ready to come into its own with the help of external factors.
Discontent over the economic situation in 1938 and early 1939 was
amplified by anxiety over the prospect of war on Germany's side. The Turin
working class was as preoccupied as other classes and those of other regions;19
in fact, particularly so on account of its traditional pro-French feelings and the
memories of the wars of independence. An agent sent to Turin to watch over
preparations for the Duce's visit wrote on 11 May:
The workers, in the course of their daily talk, show the most obdurate hostility towards
the recently agreed treaty with Germany, and openly criticise the military alliance
agreement. They fear an ever greater German domination of our internal affairs
because they frequently see German missions in Turin as if they were missions of
inspection. They claim when speaking that they will never march alongside the
Germans because if we were to emerge victorious, we would be their vassals, and lose
the freedom for which our forefathers gave their lives.
The anticipation surrounding Mussolini's visit to Turin was largely fuelled
by the expectation of a speech clarifying Italy's ambiguous attitude in the
international field; 'the people were awaiting a definitive statement on the
international situation', which had to be 'a major peace proposal', because in
Turin 'people have an unholy fear of war and everyone is horrified at what
would become of this city in the event of war!' 20 However, Mussolini's speech
made in piazza Vittorio on 14 May, the day before the opening of Mirafiori,
did nothing to dispel the ambiguities. Whoever was thinking in terms of
diplomatic manoeuvres was satisfied; Galeazzo Ciano made a note in his
diary on that day saying: 'The Duce made a fine speech in Turin. Restrained
Mussolini's visit to Mirqfiori 193

in form; forceful in content'. 21 But it did not satisfy the inhabitants who
wanted 'reassurance about peace'. La Stampa itself gave a clear picture of the
duplicities which remained. The banner headlines on the front page
announced: 'From Turin the Duce speaks to the world: Are we heading for
peace or war?'; meanwhile the response in the sub-headings puts across a
picture of disquieting changes of position:
The problems faced in Europe today are not sufficiently great and deep to justify war-
however, for once the problems have to be resolved because sometimes harsh reality is
preferable to endless uncertainty - 'Whatever happens I can affirm with absolute
certainty that all our objectives will be achieved'.22
One can well understand the comments, which were widespread according
to one informer, to the effect that the speech did not go down well; either
because it confirmed a menacing international situation, and hence the
continuation of preparations for war, including keeping large numbers of men
in arms, and ever-greater expenditure on armaments; or because it failed to
give assurances about an upturn in the economy and jobs in a climate of peace
freed of anxiety over 'an uncertain future'. 23
The Fiat workers, with these considerations at the back of their minds,
waited at the new Mirafiori plant for hours, lined up along the test-track
shaped in the form of a figure of eight, known to them as the 'hammock',
which ran 2V2 kilometres along the north side of the main works (the
body-shop). A gigantic DUX had been raised up in the middle. The podium
for the speeches was erected under a pillar decorated with Roman eagles,
fasces and the inscription: 'Mussolini the Duce of Fascist Italy, Founder of the
Empire, inaugurates the new Fiat in the presence of its 50,000 workers'. 24
The Luce documentary on the visit follows the Duce: as he inspects, with a
knowledgeable air, the various kinds of motor vehicle, including the new
'popular' car, the four-seater 750 (in Bernardi's words: 'With an expert's eye,
he viewed the new model with satisfaction, took up position in a 2800 . . . ' ) ; as
he receives a special copy of // Bianco e Rosso (a Fiat publication) with his
portrait, which was distributed to the 50,000 workers; as he goes around the
immaculate Mirafiori plant, along the walls of which stand out the usual
inscriptions, half threat, half bombast: 'There are no rights without duties';
' . . . where there is work, there is glory for all.'
The film underlines the hygiene of the modern factory: the lockers,
fountains of chilled drinking water, basins and showers. The celebration of the
achievements of progress in the new factory was a recurrent feature in all the
publicity. Details were given of the canteen - its 560 metres length, capacity
for 11,000, and its hot-plates and radio; the parking areas for 10,000 bicycles;
the air-raid shelters for all employees. The vastness of the scale affirmed the
idea of progress - the million square metres, 300,000 of it under cover, and
factory buildings with a capacity of 3,800,000 cubic metres. The basic idea of
the project, which was to bring together all the disparate jobs in one plant and
194 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
in a single work-area, made people talk again about Fiat as the vanguard of
world motor manufacturing. Enthusiasm for rationality and progress
reached their peak in the descriptions of social harmony that would flow from
them. For example, Marziano Bernardi writes:
The full exercise of the worker's intellectual and physical powers will be accompanied
by attention to hygiene, comfort, possibly even to luxury ... At the end of his daily
labours, there await him the meeting-halls, sports-fields, swimming-baths and river-
bathing, places of entertainment, and, for whoever wishes, intellectual relaxation.
The inauguration took place in a physical and mental environment of this
kind. Mussolini's car went the length of the test-track: 'The Duce is among
the workers, there, within reach, in their midst,' writes Bernardi. The Luce
documentary shows a mass of gesticulating hands (clutching what must be //
Bianco e Rosso), waving handkerchiefs and giving Roman salutes. Mussolini,
Agnelli, Starace and the entourage climb onto the podium. Finally, the
moment of Mussolini's speech arrives 'amidst a roar of hurrahs [...] Then an
ineffable silence. The Duce speaks to the workers of Turin, and, through
them, to all Italian workers'.
Between, on the one hand, this type of propaganda that illustrates jubilant
participation, and, on the other, the secret correspondence of the spies which
reports the silence of almost all the 50,000 present, there is perhaps a more
nuanced reality, depending on which part of the crowd is considered.
However, even in the official literature oblique references are to be found to
the embarrassing occurrence; // Bianco e Rosso, subsequent to the special
issue, warns: 'The Duce reminded us of his Milan speech, inviting us to
re-read it.' Extracts of this speech are included in // Maglio (the paper of the
Fascist trade unions), bringing attention to the fact that the regime's approach
to the working classes is still the same as set out then. 25 But these zealous
readers followed Mussolini's advice only as regards the first part of the
The 'Speech to the Workers of Milan' had been delivered on 6 October
1934 in piazza Duomo. Starting from the crisis of 1929, which is analysed as
the transition from one phase of civilisation to another, Mussolini proposed
the corporate solution, committing himself to the achievement of greater
social justice. This meant secure jobs, fair wages, decent housing, and a
limited measure of worker participation in production subject to the need for
factory discipline. Apart from these promises, the Milan speech made a
survey of Italy's international relations, and recalled that it was not possible
to 'bring back to life a pacifist Lazarus, severely crushed and buried under
the weight of battleships and artillery'; the goal of 'greater social justice'
involved the 'military and general preparedness of the Italian people'. 26
The reference back to that speech was, therefore, two-fold; it was not only
an invitation to create social harmony (as opposed to class conflict), but also
a declaration of readiness for war in Europe. That is, it contained yet another
Mussolini's visit to Mirqfiori 195
double-meaning for the workers lined up along the Mirafiori track in the
shape of a promise and a threat.

3 Symbolic meanings
The Mirafiori episode gave a new lease of life to certain traditional stereotypes
(such as the opposition between Rome and Turin) found in the thinking of
large numbers of Turin workers. Mussolini's own opposition to building the
plant at Mirafiori (he would have preferred the new investment to have been
spread in other regions)27 had given credence to the idea that Rome was doing
everything in its power to take the sources of wealth and work away from
Turin. When construction of the plant was already underway, any suggestion
to this effect, spurred on by alarmist talk, helped to start off the old refrain - a
refrain going back to resentment (following unification) over the loss of
capital-city status to Rome, and all that meant for economic and official
A natural alliance was struck between workers and owners on account of
these fears, and the figure of Giovanni Agnelli came into especial prominence.
It was he who had shown himself unwilling to give way to pressure from the
regime, and whose support for Fascism was considered by many to be simply
a matter of tactics. A police agent remarked bitterly during the course of the
inauguration of Mirafiori: 'I slipped in among the workers while Senator
Agnelli was speaking, and I heard some of them comment ironically - Senator
Agnelli's turn to affirm his Fascist beliefs!'28
It did not harm the Senator, at least not in terms of image, that his public
persona reflected the two sides of industrial development - emancipation and
discipline. As Piero Gobetti had observed: 'In Agnelli, beneath the instinct of
the despot, can be felt the spirit of modern industrial democracy'. Despite the
iron discipline of the mass production factories, this work situation could not
but encourage awareness of one's own strength and desire for freedom.29
That public persona, on the occasion of Mussolini's visits, had played a
mediating role between the political powers and the working class. This was
especially the case with the last visit, but by then the divide seemed
irreparable (and one knows which side Agnelli ended up taking).
The fact of being from Turin also united the owners and workers of Fiat
against Mussolini and the Fascists. It is worth mentioning that the Fascists, in
turn, had accepted and utilised the opposition between Turin and Rome.
They had not realised that it would create difficulties for them in the long
term. In the short term, however, it enabled them to overlook the political
overtones of the workers' coldness towards Fascism. Thus, the behaviour of
the 'mass of engineering workers gathered at Fiat Mirafiori' was explained in
terms of the 'rather closed and inexpansive temperament' recognised as a
local characteristic. Stereotypes of the Piedmontese, recurrent in police
196 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
informers' reports, include the following: 'mountain-dwellers', 'slow', 'hide-
bound', 'slow in making their minds up', 'level-headed', 'diffident'. Mention
is made in one instance of 'diffidence' towards the regime, which, as rumour
had it, was a loss of face, a 'diminutio capiti [sic] for the Royal House'. Such
stereotypes treat Piedmontese-ness as almost a biological (even racial)
The people of these parts see only their own situation, seek improvements only for
themselves, and ask only for individual improvements without regard for others, in so
many words, the person from Piedmont is an egoist, and furthermore he conserves an
argumentative streak, full of prejudice and traditionalism. The region itself is
conservative-minded for I listen to people from other regions too - immigrants in
Turin - and they have a different set of ideas, views and attitudes.30
Fascism encouraged and accentuated recourse to gross simplifications
and generalisations which allowed people to put themselves and those like
them into broad categories over and above that of the individual. The
regime's resort to stereotypes takes place at a series of different levels - from
that of grandiose propaganda (examples have been cited vis a vis the Luce
documentaries), to the hidden discourses of informers. Nor is there a
shortage of stereotypes in popular usage (as opposed to those used by the
regime). In fact, there is a positive version of the stereotype of the Piedmon-
tese, who is said to embody rationality, reasoned pragmatism and self-
control.31 Then, the stereotype of the 'Southerner' is the very opposite,
typifying 'unreason, disorder and passion'. These polarities, which are a
recurrent feature of the history of Italy after unification (pointing yet again
to the ambivalence and malleable nature of ideologies and mental represen-
tations), are changed in terms of the use made of the stereotypes. Even the
image of the Southerner as lazy and a creature of passion could be adopted,
as we have seen, to serve anti-fascist and anti-Mussolini sentiments. This
does not, of course, detract from the gross simplification and prejudice of
such expressions, though they should not be confused with the more recent
anti-Southerner feelings widespread in Turin with the mass migration to the
North in the fifties and sixties.32 It may, however, be the case that the
greater numbers moving to Turin relative to other cities could have predi-
sposed people, when recalling the past, to draw on this stereotype as a
narrative resource.33
What concerns us here is the secondary role of this prejudice in connection
with the meanings it took on in the story of the Mirafiori episode. The
three-sided picture is overtaken by a dichotomous view of the world: conflict
between owners and workers is transformed in the light of their common
antagonism to Fascism. The Turin/Rome and Southerner/Northerner polari-
sations are then used according to the particular mixture of elements: the
progressive characterised by anti-fascist values and class alliances in the
Mussolini's visit to Mirafiori 197
name of democracy, and the conservative by the values of order, ethnocen-
trism, and prejudice towards other oppressed groups.
The polarisation between Turin and Rome takes the shape of a defence of
the industrial and industrious nature of the city. Despite differences in the use
to which they are put, these stereotypes parallel the images of the two cities in
literature; the idea of Turin as solid, proud and incorruptible in contrast to a
Rome flabby, dissipated and decadent is found in authors from D'Azeglio
and De Amicis to Faldella and Monti. 34
Leaving aside the explanations of the Mirafiori episode, the traditional
accounts of it are highly charged with symbolism. This survives causal
explanations which, by putting the episode in historical perspective, take
away from the aura surrounding it in people's memories. The power of the
symbolism owes something to the event itself; the visit of the Duce, like that of
all personalities who embody power, helps reawaken mythologies and cosmo-
logies, dichotomous visions of history (the struggle of good against evil,
honest workers against crooks, peace against war), together with folkloric
interpretations of society. It is not a coincidence that such an occasion should
also encourage the airing of another prejudice, that concerning the inge-
nuousness of people from Cuneo. A police informer writes from Milan on 21
May 1939:
In Cuneo, too, it could be noted that the crowd in the piazza did not join in the
applause coming from the centre where the Duce was speaking since the Duce's voice
could not even be heard. The loudspeakers did not work because the people from
Cuneo, true to the legend which attributes to them every kind of stupidity, had
forgotten to remove the paper which they had wrapped around the Duce's micro-
phone to keep the rain off.35
The symbolic weight attached to the tradition surrounding the Mirafiori
events is shown by the frequency with which it is linked with the individual's
own conception of himself. The story, despite similarities, is given differing
emphases depending on the person's self-image. Maria Conti Cafasso, for
example, presented herself previously with a special stress on the spontaneity
and feelings associated with the heart. Instead, Arturo Gunetti, with whose
sense of humour we are already familiar, gives an unconventional picture of
the episode:
That day, it was a holiday, paid, it was paid, wasn't it? Mussolini arrived, went
around the track, no applause, no 'Long live the Duce!', not a bloody thing, a load of
police in plain clothes around who you couldn't fail to recognise, one person eating
bread and cheese, one having breakfast, another having a drink, you needed to bring a
flask along, no shouts of 'Long live the Duce!' The occasional shout from the office
staff who'd been put to the front [...] on the hammock, very, very few at the time, there
would have been 50,000 [...] and then we all went off, the drinking places in the area
practicallyfilledup because [...] you got paid, they went to do all... the meal, there,
in honour of the Duce they went and had a meal.
198 Oral sources and the events of everyday life
There are others who do not remember anything, and they are the very ones
who carry on believing in Fascism (Martino, for example), or who at least
have a relatively favourable attitude towards it linked to an image of
themselves as 'neutral' workers who 'live and die' at Fiat's.
Do you by any chance remember Mussolini's visits to Turin, were you there? Did you
see anything?
ATTILIO GRITELLA Perhaps the last one he made with all those parades ... They
liked him well enough then, because it's not that he did much wrong, Mussolini, did
he? I wish he was still alive now.
The symbolic significance of the Mirafiori reception has grown with time.
Subsequent events - the 1943 strikes, the armed Resistance - have made it
into a foretaste of things to come. Fresh evidence of the symbolic importance
of the episode is provided by the fact that in many accounts it was said to have
taken place in 1938, the underlying reason being that the episode had
nothing to do with the war, and was essentially a demonstration of anti-
fascism without any other motivations. That is to say, in the memory there is a
refusal to put the event in historical context, and the very real links with the
impending war are removed. A mechanism of repression is set in motion
because the nearness of war in 1939 threatened to make the protest into a
protest only against a single (albeit grave) action on the part of the regime.
Instead, it had to be handed down as a symbol of an anti-fascist culture which
continued to exist even in the nadir of the Fascist years, and as a key to
interpreting the history of that period.36
So, the Mirafiori reception is taken up and projected onto a vast scenario, a
scene of the past and the imagination. The silence of the response represents
continuity with the past and an identity shaped in the united opposition to all
turncoats (with Mussolini at their head). But, above all, it points to something
not even whistles and cat-calls could have expressed with such vigour; namely
an estrangement from Fascism greater in scope and depth than the political
dissent for which it prepared the ground and helped establish. This is why
almost everyone telling the story of the episode underlines the unplanned
nature of the silent reception - the aspects of spontaneity, weariness,
annoyance or entertainment. However, the silence can also be interpreted as
symptomatic of an internal block arising from a cultural hostility to a power
which was, at the same time, accepted on a day-to-day basis.
This contradiction was articulated by one of our subjects, even though he
was not present at the visit because of his arrest, prior to Mussolini's arrival,
as someone under special police surveillance because of his Communist
Do you remember the workers' reaction when Mussolini came to Turin?
LUIGI GIANO But I was immediately arrested because I was under surveillance, I
couldn't run off, so they arrested me and ... still... my mother was still alive, and she
was afraid because they came at midnight to arrest me, they took me to the police
Mussolini's visit to Mirqfiori 199
station and so on, didn't they? But undoubtedly then, let's say . . . it was in '39, wasn't
it? [...] the time he came to Turin, yes, yes, people was discontented, but they didn't
yet manage to break, to break that thing, that chain which we had . . . people were
discontented, you understand, they complained, yet . . . they still put up with it.
This analysis of people's relationship to Fascism is traditional. It sees the
problem in narrowly political terms. By contrast, the historical analysis
adopted in this study has dealt with broader patterns of behaviour and
thought, and the relationship to Fascism is perceived differently in con-
sequence. We could say that the image which the Turin working class had of
itself played a dual role. On the one hand, it helped compensate for the very
real experience of oppression, and, on the other, it embodied a yearning for

1 Subjects and tape-recordings

Pseudonym for
those preferring Location
Name anonymity of tapes (e - and)

1 Francesca Bertagna (called GAM, BSP 33 e 34; ISM

Maddalena) widow of Perlino
2 Eugenia Candellero RP 6, 7, 8
3 Gabriella Basso RP 17, 18, 18 bis
4 Luigia Varusco widow of Rosellini RP 20 e 22
5 Carolina Grifanti LP, F 7 e 10
6 Adelina GAM, BSP 14
7 Lina Villata RP 24 e 25
8 Corinna Lanzetto widow of Martino ISM, SP 1 e 2
9 Marta ISM
10 Giulia Cavedon RP8
11 Maria Micela widow of Rollino ISM, TO/CO/6
12 Albina Caviglione Lusso RP 22 e 24
13 Delia ISM, TO/SD/2 e TO/CO/11
14 Rosa RP4e5
15 Luigia Gaudino widow of Gogliotto LP, F 13
16 Maria Conti Cafasso ISM, TO/LI/4 e 9-10; LP, 1
17 Anna Bonivardi RP22
18 Maria Truffo RP23
19 Rita Nano widow of Artero ISM, TO/LI/8; LP, 2
20 Lucia ISM, TO/SD/5
21 Olga ISM, TO/SD/16
22 Irma GAM, BSP 20
23 Ludovica GAM, BSP 28, 29 e 30
24 Fernanda Luciani widow of Sandri RP21
25 Mariuccia Cavarero RP21
26 Mirella RP7
27 Alessandra GAM, BSP 7 e 22
28 Maria Coletto widow of Pedrazzoli GAM, BSP 29 e 31; LP, 2
29 Isolina ISM, TO/SD/14
202 Appendix
1 Subjects and tape-recordings (cont.)

Pseudonym for
those preferring Location
Name anonymity of tapes

30 Wanda GAM, BSP 4

31 Maria Gallo ISM, TO/CO/8
32 Elena ISM
33 Paola ISM
34 Paolo Pagliazzo RP9
35 Luigi Vercellotti RP8
36 Giovanni Barbero RP9
37 Giovanni Banfo LP, F 10
38 Giuseppe Ivaldi ISM/LI, 11 e l 2 ; R P 1 5 e l 6 ;
39 Costantino Burio LP, F 10
40 Angelo Sargian ISM/CO/11
41 Giuseppe Visca RP 10
42 Cesare (lost)
43 Luigi Giano ISM/TO/LI/5
44 Emilio ISM/TO/LI/1
45 Olinto Bongi RP9
46 Francesco Correggia RP5
47 Felice Gentile RP3
48 Giovanni Monti ISM/TO/CO/9
49 Attilio Gritella RP7
50 Benigno Bricca ISM/LI/3
51 Giovanni Pastore ISM/TO/CO 3-4
52 Gino ISM/BM/2
53 Bernardino Favole RP 10
54 Giovanni Steffanino LP, F 10
55 Gaetano Da Ros RP1
56 Carlo Gobetti RP 19
57 Lorenzo Anselmo ISM/TO/LI/2;RP15el6;
58 Mario Purghe RP2
59 Martino ISM/TO/CO/10
60 Lelio LP, F 14
61 Cristoforo RP4
62 Arturo Gunetti ISM/LI/6 e 7; RP 15, 16;
LP, 3
63 Fausto ISM (riservata)
64 Otello Dal Canto RP1 e2
65 Antonio ISM/BM/2; LP 6
66 Federico RP4
67 Giovanni Dogliero ISM/TO/CO/7
Appendix 203
2 Outline of individual biographies, ideological affinities, and method of

Women a b c d (5 f g h i 1 m


1 1884 (1980) 1 11 + 2 + + I 4 5 1 4-
2 1886(1980) 2 7,11,8,6 1 + 6 1 4 +
3 1889 2 7,8,9,2,3,5,11 1 4- + 1 4 2 +
4 1890 2 9,7,11 + 1 + + 4 5 2 +
5 1893 36 1 4- 4- ] 1 1 4 +
6 1894 1 8, 11 + 2 + + + 7 3 2
7 1896 2 9,11 2 + 4- 4 2 2 +
8 1898 (1979) 1 8, 11 4- 2 + 1 2 2
1 i r
9 1901 1 10,6, 11 1 1 1 2 1 3
10 1902 3 11,6 5 1 > 3 1 4 4-
11 1902 2 5, 11 1 + + 4 4 2 +
12 1903 1 3,8,11 + 2 i
) 4- 5 6 2 +
13 1903 18 + 2 T
| l
Z> 7 3 2 +
14 1903 $ 9, 8, 6 + 2 1 i r
) 7 2 4 +
15 1903 2 8,6 1 + c) 2 1 4 +
16 1904 2 11,6 1 4- 1 5 5 1 +
3 2)
i i r
17 1904 2 3,11 2 T i 4- 5 6 2 +
18 1905 18 2 r> 4 4 2 4-
i i r
19 $ 2 9, 3, 6, 10 1 T "T ^> 4 6 1 +
20 1906 28 + 2 + + 2 4 6 2
i r
21 1907 28 4 T T 2 2 1 2
22 1907 18 + 2 4" "T I> 7 2 2
_l_ i r
23 1907 (1979) 28 1 3 T" T 2. 3 2 2 +
24 1908 2 11 5 3 + + 1 4 4 1 +
25 1910 2 2, 10, 11 2 2 5 4 1 +
26 1910 2 11 + 2 4- 4- 1 2 1 4 +
27 1912 2 3, 10, 6 4 1 4- 4- 2 o 7 2 2
28 1913 3 2,8 1 4- 4- 1 4 2 2 +
29 1914 3 9, 4, 10 4 4- + & 3 1 3
30 1914 1 9,11 1 4- + 2 + 1 4 2
31 1917 2 6,9,11 1 3 + + 2 7 2 2 +
32 1919 3 8, 10 4 4- + & 8 1 3
33 1920 1 10 2 2 6 1 3
34 1886 25 3 4- + 2 2 3 2 4 +
35 1889 2 11,6 3 4- 2 2 7 2 4 +
36 1890 (1980) 26 3 + 3 2 3 2 4 +
37 1891 2 10,11,6 2 : 2 3 4 4 4-
38 1894 26 3 + 4- 3 5 5 1 4-
204 Appendix
2 Outline of individual biographies, ideological affinities, and method of
contact (cont.)

Men a b c d e f g h i 1 m

39 1895 (1980) 1 1,6 3 + 2 2 2 1 4 +

40 1897 2 4,6 3 2 + + 3 2 7 2 2 +
41 1898 2 11,2 2 + 2 2 7 2 4 +
42 1899 3 11,5 3 2 + 2 2 8 4 4
43 1900 16 2 + 2 2 + 5 5 1 +
44 1900 3 9,6,5, 10, 11 1 + + 1 4 5 1
45 1900 4 2,6, 11 1 2 7 1 4 +
46 1900 1 5,6 3 + + 3 2 7 4 4 +
47 1901 5 1, 11,6 3 + + 3 1 + 4 4 +
48 1903 1 2,3,6 3 + + 3 8 1 2 +
49 1903 26 3 + + 2 8 1 4 +
50 1904(1977) 16 4 + & 5 4 1
51 1904 1 5,6 3 2 + + 3 7 2 2 +
52 1906 (1978) 46 2 3 + 2 & 2 1 3
53 1906 2 6,11 1 2 1 2 2 4 +
54 1906 (1980) 1 11, 1,6 2 2 6 1 4 +
55 1906 3 11,6 3 + + 2 7 2 4 +
56 1909 1 3,1,6,4,11 2 + + 2 4 1 2 +
57 1912 1 5,6 2 + + 2 + 5 5 1 +
58 1912 16 2 + & 3 + 7 4 4 +
59 1913 1 1,6 2 + + 3 8 2 2 +
60 1913 1 11,6,10 3 + 2 1 2 4 4 +
61 1916 2 9,6 3 + 3 2 2 4 +
62 1916 1 5, 6, 10 2 + + 3 4 5 5 1 +
63 1920 16 2 + + 3 1 6 1 3
64 1920 1 11,5,6 3 + + 2 1 2 2 4 +
65 1920 2 4,11 3 + + 2 4 2 1 3 +
66 1921 16 3 $ $ 3 4 8 1 4 +
67 1922 1 5, 11 2 + + 3 1 4 4 2 +
Appendix 205

3 Symbols used in presenting the individual biographies

a = date of birth (and death)
b = place of birth
1 = Turin
2 = Piedmont
3 = Northern Italy excluding Piedmont
4 = Central Italy
5 = Southern Italy and the Islands
c = work (the data on this in the biographies and tables of summaries relate mainly to
the inter-war period)
I = sectors:
1 = wood
2 = food
3 = leather
4 = printing
5 = metallurgical
6 = engineering
7 = textiles
8 = clothing
9 = chemicals
10 = various (factory-based)
11 = various (non-factory). For women this mainly means the following work:
shop-assistant in various shops, waitress, janitor; for number 16: rice-field
worker and market worker; for number 31: peasant (work in the fields and
care of the silk-worms). For the men it mainly refers to building worker,
painter, apprentice or errand-boy; in particular, for number 37: emigrant
in France (various jobs); for number 53: herdsman, servant, night-guard,
emigrant in Argentina; for number 54: barber; for number 55: jeweller; for
number 56: apart from building worker, usher and extra; for number 65:
tram-worker; for number 67: funerals
II = domestic outwork:
+ = whoever has declared having done this as an adult
III = skill:
1 = unskilled manual worker (manovale), women assigned to basic jobs
2 = semi-skilled worker (manovale specializzato), women machine-operatives;
domestic outwork of average 'quality' (for companies, serialised work),
workshop work with intensive division of labour
3 = skilled worker (operaio qualificato e specializzato); maintenance worker; all-
round worker in small workshops
4 = uncertain
5 = not classifiable because without factory-work experience (women)
IV = changes in career
1 = becomes clerk
2 = becomes manager
3 = moves to another sector: for example, in the case of number 17: does a
course and becomes a nurse; for number 23: marries a craftsman and
becomes a housewife; for numbers 24, 31 and 52: set up shops (but after the
Second World War)
d = marriage
I = married
II = without children
206 Appendix
e = schooling
1 = from 1 to 3 years
2 = from 4 to 6 years: if in part night or holiday schooling (in the period before
1923 these years could be spent either in primary or technical schools)
3 = more than 6 years: if in part in night and holiday schooling
0 = no schooling
f = military and war service
1 = military service
2 = First World War
3 = Ethiopian War
4 = Second World War
g = Resistance
+ = participation
The symbol & signifies that the question was not asked; the symbol $ signifies that the
person interviewed avoided the question.

N.B. At point c, III, regarding skill, the point of reference taken for the classification is
the 1929 Turin metal workers' contract which established four categories for men:
highly skilled worker (operaio specializzato), skilled worker (operaio qualificato), semi-
skilled worker (manovale specializzato), and general labourer (manovale comune). The
women were divided into a higher band of machine operatives (addette alle macchine),
and workers at the bench (both paid at the same rate, and yet less than the lowest paid
men), and into a lower band doing unskilled work and labouring (see 'II contratto
metallurgico di Torino', in Stato operaio, 3, 4, 1929, p. 340). Duccio Bigazzi recalls, on
the basis of archival data of the Board of Management, that in 1946-8, 80% of women
workers at Fiat Mirafiori were placed in the second category for women, that covering
machine operatives, while 12% were included in the third category covering labouring
(see Bigazzi, 'Gli operai della catena di montaggio', p. 945.)

4 Symbols used in presenting the data on ideological affinity and method of

h = manifested political position:
1 = hostility to politics
2 = distance or indifference
3 = not expressed
4 = sympathy for the parties of the workers' movement (mainly in favour of the
Communist Party with frequent regret at the division between the PCI and
the Socialist Party)
5 = rank-and-file militants in organisations of the workers' movement
6 = rank-and-file militants in Catholic associations
7 = progressive orientation
8 = appeal to the past order of things
i = religion
1 = fervent and practising Catholic
2 = practising Catholic
3 = another religious faith
4 = not expressed
5 = old Socialist anti-clericalism
6 = non-denominational believer
1 = channels of contact:
1 = via associations of the workers' movement (unions, party branches, clubs)
Appendix 207
2 = via interviewers' networks of friends and relations
3 = via parishes and oratories
4 = old people's associations and institutions (Fiat Old People's Homes of Corso
Dante and Ville Roddolo, veterans and ex-servicemen's associations)
m = interviewer
+ = interviewed at least once by Luisa Passerini

5 Tables summarising methods of contact

(1) Channel of contact (m) Interviewer

1 2 3 4

W 5 18 4 6 22
M 6 6 3 19 29
T 11 24 7 25 51

6 Table summarising ideological affiliations

(h) Political Position (i) Religion

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6

W 4 4 3 9 4 2 6 1 10 8 2 6 3 4
M 7 3 4 5 2 8 5 10 11 8 5
T 4 11 6 13 9 4 14 6 20 19 2 14 8 4
208 Appendix
7 Table summarising biographies

Date of birth Place of birth of work
1899 1909 1922 1 2 3 4 5 1 2

W 8 16 9 10 19 4 g
M 9 14 11 17 11 3 2 1 5 3
T 17 30 20 27 30 7 2 1 5 6

Sectors of work Domestic

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

W 5 1 2 10 3 15 7 7 18 10
M 2 3 9 29 2 4 15
T 7 4 11 39 3 15 9 11 33 10

Skill Changes in career Family

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3

W 13 14 4 2 3 4 29 24
M 3 12 18 1 3 1 30 19
T 16 26 18 5 2 59 43

Military and
Schooling war service Resistance

0 1 2 3 & 1 2 3 4

w 1 13 17 4 2 4
M 1 17 3 13 10 3 6 10 1 3 4
T 1 14 34 7 13 10 5 8

1 See E. Durkheim, 'De la definition des phenomenes religieux', UAnnie sociologique,
1897-98 (Paris, 1899), vol. 2, pp. 20, 23-4; and Le forme elementari della vita religiosa
(Milan, 1963), pp. 18, 477-8, English edition: The elementary forms of religious life
(New York, 1961).
2 See B. Malinowski, Argonauti del Pacifico Occidentale (Rome, 1973), pp. 48-9. The
first formulation, however, is found in the previous study (that of 1916, while The
Argonauts dates from 1922): 'Baloma. Gli spiriti dei morti nelle isole Trobriand', in
B. Malinowski, Magia, scienza e religione (Rome, 1976), pp. 189-96. English edition:
Argonauts of the Western Pacific (London, 1922); Baloma: the spirits of the dead in the
Tobriand Islands (London, 1916); Magic, science and religion (London, 1925).
3 See E. De Martino, Naturalismo e storicismo nelVetnologia (Bari 1941), p. 14.
4 See L. Febvre, 'Come ricostruire la vita affettiva di un tempo: la sensibilita', and
'La storia e psicologia', in Problemi di metodo storico (Turin, 1976), pp. 118, 129, 130.
5 See R. Williams, Culture and society 1780-1950 (London, 1958), pp. 8ff; F. Rositi,
'Eccedenza culturale e controllo sociale', Science umane, 5 August 1980, p. 149.
6 See A. Gramsci, 'Osservazioni sul "Folclore"', in Quaderni delcarcere (Turin, 1975),
vol.3, pp. 230917, English edition: Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Cultural
Writings, D. Forgacs, G. Nowell-Smith (eds.) (London, 1985), pp. 18&-95. Funda-
mental for interpreting the 'Osservazioni' in the frame work of Gramsci's thought is
the critical analysis of A. M. Cirese, 'Concezione del mondo, filosofia spontanea e
istinto di classe nelle "Osservazioni sul folclore" di Antonio Gramsci', now in
Intellettuali, folclore, istinto di classe (Turin, 1976). V. J. Propp has insisted on the
importance of the distinction between the cultural and material aspects of popular
We know very well that there is a very close tie between the material culture and the spiritual
culture (of peasant strata), yet we distinguish between the sphere of material creation and
that of spiritual creation, just as we do for the upper classes.
Propp also draws attention to the elitist and discriminatory character which comes
from making the study of peasants' material and spiritual creation a single science.
See 'Lo specifico del folclore', in Edipo alia luce del folclore (Turin, 1975), p. 143.
7 On the diversity of the proletariat, structurally speaking, for the period preceding
the First World War, see, for example, G. Procacci, La lotta di classe in Italia agli inizi
del secolo XX (Rome, 1970). On the working class's political and organisational
capacities, see, among others, G. Arfe, Storia del socialismo italiano (1892-1926)

210 Notes to pages 5-10

(Turin, 1966); V. Foa, 'Sindacati e lotte sociali', in Storia d'ltalia (Turin, 1973),
vol. 5, pt 2.
8 For example, R. Luraghi writes: 'The Communists [...] felt the enormous reserves
of working class power behind them, steadfast and at the ready, and decisively
lined up against Fascism.' In 'Momenti della lotta antifascista in Piemonte negli
anni 1926-43', Movimento di Liberazione in Italia, 1954, pp. 20, 28-9.
9 See D. Zucaro, Cospirazione operaia. Resistenza alfascismo in Torino, Milano, Genova,
1927-43 (Turin, 1965), p. 183.
10 See P. Togliatti, Lezioni sulfascismo (Rome, 1970), pp. 108 and 113, English edition:
Lectures on Fascism (London, 1976).
11 De Felice's theses are put forward in Mussolini il duce. Gli anni del consenso: 1929-36
(Turin, 1974), pp. 54-95.
12 A similar approach underlies the majority of Italian histories of the traditional
organisations of the working class. An example for the period under consideration
is P. Spriano, Storia del partito comunista italiano. Gli anni della clandestinita (Turin,
13 See G. Quazza, Resistenza e storia d'ltalia (Milan, 1976), pp. 73-5.
14 I should say that this procedure is not only inspired by the techniques of the
disciplines of ethno-anthropology and folklore, but owes something to the practices
of mass communications, above all, radio. It has been said, of the radio interview,
that the practice of listening (in the place of questioning) calls, on the one hand, for
the interviewer to efface himself, and, on the other, is based on the assumption that
interviewing is not limited to events; rather, it means 'making the interview itself
into an event', thanks to the establishment of a relationship of trust between
interviewer and interviewee. On the radio rapport developed during the twenties,
see P. Lejeune>v/f est un autre (Paris, 1980), pp. 103-60. On the practice of listening,
see the experience ofJ. Chancel, Le temps d'un regard (Paris, 1978).
15 The same method has been widely used by P. Joutard for his La legende des camisards
(Paris, 1977). On the relationship between traditions and cultural identity, see
J. C. Bouvier, H.-P. Bremondy, P. Joutard, G. Mathieur, J.-N. Pelen, Tradition
orale et identite culturelle (Paris, 1980), pp. 12-13.
16 Many interviews - and it could not have been otherwise given recognition of the
specificity of the oral - are in dialect, almost always in Piedmontese with elements
of other spoken regional dialects. I transcribed some of the material myself,
especially the most confused and difficult parts, while the majority was done by
Lidia Sinchetto and Albina Malerba, and then checked by me, at least as far as the
passages quoted are concerned. The original transcriptions are faithful, that is,
they also reproduce repetitions, interjections, and every kind of error. Rarely in the
course of this book has quotation cut out the 'inessential' or been motivated by
questions of style; even then, this has never been done in a way that has turned the
text from a series of hesitations into flowing speech. Every quantitative reduction of
the original text is also marked by the sign [...].
17 Stendhal's expression taken up by Dominique Aron-Schnapper and Daniele
Hanet in Histoire orale ou archives orales? (Paris, 1980), p. 17, in highlighting the
contribution of oral sources to history, but they keep 'life's little episodes' in a
subordinate role. They are, in effect, relegated to the role of illustrating 'how' more
important events came about, their task is to 'enrich, tone down, fill in, correct and
bring alive historians' reconstructions which have the tendency to be rational-
18 The terms come from W. Runciman, Inegualianza e coscienza sociale (Turin, 1972),
pp. 13, 3834, English edition: Relative deprivation and social justice (London,
Notes to pages 10-20 211
19 See P. Thompson, The Edwardians. The remaking of British society (London, 1975).
20 See N. Gagnon and B. Jean, 'Les Histoires de vie et la transformation du Quebec
contemporain', Sound Heritage, 4, 1, 1975.
21 The obligatory reference is to E. P. Thompson, Making of the English working class
(Harmondsworth, 1968): 'If we remember that class is a relationship, and not a
thing...', p. 11.
22 See T. Adorno, 'Sul rapporto di sociologia e psicologia', in Scritti sociologici (Turin,
23 See A. Treves, Le migrazioni interne nelVltaliafascista (Turin, 1976), pp. 27-8, 49-51;
and S. Musso, 'Proletariate industriale e fascismo a Torino. Aspetti del territorio
operaio', Annali Feltrinelli 1979-80, p. 515 and 56In. If the data provided by Musso
on the basis of the 1921 and the 1931 census are analysed, it turns out that for the
first date the population born in the Comune was 39% of the total, and the
population born in the province and in Piedmont amounted to 49.7%. In 1931 the
two figures changed respectively to 34.2% and 41.4%. Meanwhile, the population
born in Northern Italy rose from 8.8% to 13.1%, that of Central Italy and the
islands went from 3.5% to 5.4%. This last figure was to rise sharply exactly during
the thirties (see the table on p. 56In). Lastly, I should note that the quartieri most
frequently mentioned (by the interviewees) are: Borgo San Paolo, Barriera di
Milano, Lingotto and Barriera di Nizza. The first two grew up in the first decade of
the century and before the First World war, while the major development of the
latter two belongs to this second period.
24 See C. Saraceno, 'La famiglia operaia sotto il fascismo', Annali Feltrinelli, 1979-80,
p. 199.
25 See, for example, D. Bigazzi, 'Gli operai della catena di montaggio: La Fiat
1922-43', Annali Feltrinelli 1979-80. See also M. Lichtner, (ed.), Uorganizzazione del
lavoro in Italia (Rome, 1975), p. 97.
26 See M. Livi Bacci, Donnafecondita ejigli (Bologna, 1980), pp. 153ff. C. Saraceno, 'La
famiglia', p. 206; see also chapter 4, section 4 of the present work.
27 See F. Cereja, 'L'istruzione professionale e industriale nel periodo fascista. II caso
torinese', in E. Passerin et al. Movimento operaio e sviluppo economico in Piemonte negli
ultimi cinquant'anni (Turin, 1978), p. 52.
28 The relative privileges should be viewed against the background of the deteriorat-
ing living conditions of broad sections of workers. All scholars have noted this
process. See, in the first instance, M. Matteotti, La classe lavoratrice sotto la
dominazione fascista 1921-43, which was published clandestinely and circulated in
1944. The work, erroneously attributed to Bruno Buozi, was republished in Milan
in 1973 with the title Le condizioni della classe lavoratrice in Italia 1922-43. See G.
Sapelli, 'La classe operaia durante il fascismo: problemi e indicazioni di ricerca',
Annali Feltrinelli 1979-80, pp. xviixviii. For Turin in the early thirties, see S.
Lunadei Girolami, 'Partito comunista e classe operaia a Torino, 1929-34', Annali
della Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 4, 1970.

1 Memories of self
1 See M. Bachtin, 'Epos e romanzo', in G. Lukacs, M. Bachtin et al., Problemi di teoria
del romanzo (Turin, 1976), p. 203n.
2 For the particularity of presentations in which commonplace expressions and
formulae are employed in 'open sequences' with continuous adaptations of
traditional themes to present circumstances, see R. D. Abrahams, 'Negotiating
respect: pattern of presentation among black women', Journal of American Folklore,
88, n. 347, 1975, pp. 58-80. For a general analysis of the problem of the
212 Notes to pages 20-7
presentation of self, see E. Goffman, The presentation of self in everyday life (New York,
3 References to the culture of San Paolo are found in memoirs, for example, in M.
Montagnana, Ricordi di un operaio torinese (Rome, 1949); G. Ravera, Diario di trent
anni (Rome, 1973); P. Rabotti, Scelto dalla vita (Rome, 1980). See also G. Arian
Levi, 'L'associazionismo operaio e Torino e in Piemonte (1890-1926)' in A. Agosti
and G. M. Bravo (eds.), Storia del movimento operaio, del socialismo e delle lotte sociali in
Piemonte (Bari, 1979), vol. 2, and D. Jalla, "Perche mio papa era un ferroviere . . . " .
Una famiglia operaia dei primi del novecento', Rivista di storia contemporanea, 1, 1980.
On 1 May 1920, see the accounts in AvanHf, 3 May 1920; and Ordine Nuovo, 8 May
4 The manuscript of the diary belongs to the family of Mezzano Perlino, whom I
would like warmly to thank for allowing me to take it away to read. The transcript
of the diary's account of 1 May is published in L. Passerini, 'Primo maggio 1920: un
ricordo tra memorie scritte e tradizione orale', Studi piemontesi, 1, 1981.
5 The quoted terms are taken from M. Guglielminetti, Memoria e scrittura. L'autobio-
grqfia da Dante a Cellini (Turin, 1977), pp. 35-6.
6 See, apart from Lukacs, Bachtin et al.y Problemi di teoria, M. Bachtin, L'opera di
Rabelais e la culturapopolare (Turin, 1979), and M. Bachtin, Estetica e romanzo (Turin,
7 The same historical episode appears in other interviews, see Passerini, 'Primo
maggio', pp. 195-6.
8 Ronald Fraser, on the basis of his experience of collecting oral source-materials on
the Spanish Civil War, establishes that memory is most reliable when personal and
political events overlap in periods of social crisis; see Blood of Spain (London, 1979).
On these issues, see R. Fraser, 'Politics as daily life: oral history and the Spanish
civil war', in Papers presented to the International Oral History Conference (Amsterdam,
1980), vol. 1. On the debate on memory vis a vis oral sources, see L. Passerini, 'Vita
quotidiana e potere nella ricerca storica', in La storia: fonti orali nella scuola (Venice,
9 See O. Negt and A. Kluge, Sfera pubblica ed esperienza (Milan, 1982), pp. 173 and
10 See V. Pratolini, Lo Scialo (Milan 1976), vol. 1, pp. 266 and 285ff.
11 See the debate on realism provoked by the publication in 1955 of Metello, the first
volume of Pratolini's trilogy, Una storia italiana, especially the interventions of C.
Muscetta collected in Realismo e contro-realismo (Milan, 1958), and of C. Cases, Patrie
lettere (Padua, 1974).
12 A. Asor Rosa, Scrittori epopolo (Rome, 1965), and R. Paris, // mito delproletariato nel
romanzo italiano (Milan, 1977).
13 See P. Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique (Paris, 1975), pp. 179 and 237; and J.
Starobinski, 'Le Style de l'autobiographie', Poe'tique, 3, 1970, p. 258.
14 See N. Zemon Davis, 'Women on top', in Society and culture in early modern France
(London, 1975), p. 143. See also A. Jacobson Schutte, '"Trionfo delle donne":
tematiche di rovesciamento dei ruoli nella Firenze rinascimentale', Quaderni storici,
44, 1980; O. Niccoli, 'Lotte per le brache. La donna "indisciplinata" nelle stampe
popolari d'ancien regime', Memoria, 2, 1981; M. Perrot, 'La popolana ribelle',
Nuova Donna-Woman-Femme, 15, 1981.
Carolina's passing remark about 'having the devil' in her reminds us of Mary
Douglas's observations on the greater salience of women in the cults of possession:
it is the very marginality of women with respect the social divisions of labour which
means that they are less involved than men in the fundamental institutions of
society and that pushes them into a symbolic state which allegorically represents
Notes to pages 30-6 213
their social position; see M. Douglas, I simboli naturali (Turin, 1979), pp. 1249,
English edition: Natural symbols (London, 1970). More generally, see Cocchiara on
the image of the world turned upside down: 'It is second nature within the deepest
recesses of the human soul to tend to think in terms of an unreal world in dialectical
opposition to the real world.' This is not only an escape from everyday reality, but
'an aspiration and desire to make and re-make the world, interpreting and
re-ordering it for the individual'; see G. Cocchiara, // mondo alia rovescia (Turin,
1981), pp. 21-2.
15 See C. Nigra, Canti popolari del Piemonte (Turin, 1957), vol. 2, pp. 525-8. Nigra
transcribes four variations of the song L'uccellino del bosco, one of which is very
similar to the version sung by Albina. On the two versions, political and amorous,
see R. Leydi, I cantipoplari italiani (Milan, 1973), pp. 277-9.
16 For a redefinition of the meaning of 'tradition' which departs from the old
opposition between stories with structures and personal reminiscences, the first
seen as variations on a theme and the second as forms of expression internal to
existing cognitive paradigms, see J. Goody, 'Memoire et apprentissage dans les
societes avec et sans ecriture: la transmission du Bagre', L'homme, 17, 1, 1977; E.
Tonkin, 'The boundaries of history in oral performance: comments on a Liberian
case-study', in Papers presented to the International Oral History Conference, vol. 1; A.
Milillo, Narrativa di tradizione orale (Rome, 1977); see also the chapter added to the
Italian edition ofJan Vansins, La tradizione orale. Saggio di metodologia storica (Rome,
17 Examples of women's discursive space which serves the purposes of social control
are found in F. Zanolla, 'Suocere, nuore e cognate nel primo '900 a P. nel Friuli',
Quaderni storici, 44, 1980. This underlines the contrast between narrative stereotype
of passivity and forms of women's power. See also S. Cavallo, 'Realta familiari e
aspettative di vita: tre biografie femminili, 1920-80', in E. Beltrami, S. Cavallo, E.
Gennuso, M. Gentile, G. Gribaudi and M. Gribaudi, Relazioni sociali e strategie
individuali in ambiente urbano: Torino nel Novecento (Cuneo, 1981). Also A. Bravo and L.
Scaraffia, 'Ruolo femminile e identita nelle contadine della Langhe: un'ipotesi di
storia orale', Rivista di storia contemporanea, 7, 1, 1979. These authors noted that in
their interviewees 'there is a common tendency to reconstruct their own biography
more along the lines of what "ought to be" than of what was', p. 35.
18 See P. Camporesi, La maschera di Bertoldo (Turin, 1976), p. 1150 and G. C. Croce,
Le sottilissime astuzie di Bertoldo. Le piacevoli e ridicolose semplicita di Bertoldino (Turin,
1978); K. Miklasevskij, La commedia delVarte (Venice, 1981), p. 41; see also S.
Thompson, Motif-index of folk-literature, 6 volumes (Bloomington, Ind., and
London, 1955-8). Volume 4 classifies 'as a whole' the 'tales of cleverness and
stupidity' under the title The wise men and the foolish.
19 See Guglielminetti, Memoria e scrittura, p. 23 with reference to Jacopone of Todi's
20 D. Montaldi's Introduction to Autobiograjie della leggera (Turin, 1961), pp. 52-4 n.
The phrase 'I've always been unlucky' appears in Teuta's autobiography, p. 210.
21 See Michel de Certeau, 'Hagiographie', entry in the Encyclopaedia Universalis (Paris,
1970), vol. 8. In its constitution as a scientific discipline, hagiography separated
itself from popular traditions, sorting out truth from falsehood in a process not
without conflicts so much so, that one of its leading pioneers, Delehaye, had
vigorously to maintain that the origins of hagiography did not lie in pre-Christian
traditions but in Christian martyrologies. See H. Delehaye, Les legendes hagiographi-
ques (Brussels, 1905); see also his Cinq lecons sur la methode hagiographique (Brussels,
22 The story of Angioletta, textile worker at Gravellona Toce (Novara), born at
214 Notes to pages 37-45
Casale Corte Cerro in 1888, is found in E. Vallini, Operai del nord (Bari, 1955),
pp. 184-90.
23 According to Benveniste's thesis, this often occurs in the relationship between T
and 'we' when the singularity and subjectivity inherent in the first person singular
contradicts the possibility of its becoming plural; see E. Benveniste, Problemes de
linguistique generate (Paris, 1966), p. 233. In the case of Eugenia's story, it is
especially evident that 'we' is not the plural of T , and the context fills the gap
between the two identities with meaning.
24 An interpretation of such a relationship as a basic existential situation is given in
the pages of Ernesto De Martino on the existentialist philosophies in Lafinedel
mondo (Turin, 1977), pp. 668ff. 'The foundation of human existence is not being but
what should be, that is to say, the inter-personal impulse to confer values on life, the
communal project of the practicable which is continuously renewed.'
25 See M. Isnenghi, 'Valori popolari e valori "ufficiali" nella mentalita del soldato fra
le due guerre', Quaderni storici, 38, 1978, p. 702.
26 See Benveniste, Problemes de linguistique, p. 228.
27 See Starobinski, 'Le Style de l'autobiographie', p. 259; and Lejeune, Le Pacte
autobiographique, p. 16.
28 On the history of the Karl Marx Club of Barriera di Nizza, see two works based on
oral sources: C. Canteri, Storia del Circolo Carlo Marx (Turin, n.d.), and G. Arian
Levi, // Lingotto. Storia di un quartiere operaio (Torino 1922-73) (Turin, n.d.).
29 See the observation of C. Peneff, 'Autobiographies de militants ouvriers', Revue
franqaise de sciencepolitique, 29, 1, 1979, p. 65; L. Lanzardo, 'Fonti orali e storia della
classe operaia: indagini sulla coscienza di classe alia Fiat', Rivista di storia
contemporanea, 10, 2, 1981. Self-censorship is evident in the collection of B. Guidetti
Serra, Compagne (Turin, 1977).
30 See D. Montaldi, Militantipolitici di base (Turin, 1971), pp. 316 and 357.
31 See M. Carbognin and L. Paganelli (eds)., //sindacato come esperienza (Rome, 1981),
pp. 65 and 373.
32 The term is used by Gramsci to refer to craftsmen in whom production is 'creative
activity' because in them there remain 'very strong ties between art and work'. See
A. Gramsci, 'Americanismo e Fordismo', in Quaderni del carcere, 3, p. 2165.
Gramsci, referring to the writings of Filippo Burzio, links the meaning of 'creator'
and 'worker for the people and the community' to the idea of 'encyclopedism'; see
vol. 2, p. 1032.
33 It is not difficult to find such features in folklore. The fable often attributes to
peasants the wisdom of counting their blessings, together with the ability to cope in
any situation. The most telling description of such a stereotype is perhaps that cited
by P. Burke; a poem widespread in Scandinavia in the eighteenth century speaks of
the peasant figure with few possessions, who lives a life of simplicity and liberty,
and is a good neighbour, God-fearing and 'happy in his work which he loves best of
all'. According to Burke, this could be an ideal image of how the common people of
Europe in the modern period see themselves. P. Burke, Popular culture in early modern
Europe (London, 1978), pp. 162-3.
34 On the relationship between pride in craft and advanced class consciousness, see
D. Bigazzi, '"Fierezza del mestiere" e organizzazione di classe: gli operai mec-
canici milanesi (1880-1900)', Societd e storia, 1, 1978. For the opposite, namely, the
management's exploitation of craft-pride to blunt worker conflict, see R. Botta,
'Gerarchie professionali e competizione operaia all' ILVA di Novi Ligure: per un
uso delle fonti orali', Movimento operaio e socialista, 4, 1978. On the dialectic between
egalitarianism and authoritarianism present in the ideology of craft, see L.
Passerini, 'Soggettivita operaia e fascismo: indicazioni di ricerca dalle fonti orali',
Notes to pages 45-52 215
Annali Feltrinelli 1979-80; G. Berta, 'Culture del lavoro e sviluppo industriale:
un'interpretazione', Societa e storia, 11, 1981.
35 In particular, this is a re-interpretation of the mask coming from the moderately
liberal-minded middle classes. La Famija was established in 1925 as an apolitical
venture with the purpose of'following in the footsteps of those good-humoured and
healthy traditions taught us by our predecessors'. See 7 Caval 'd brons, 3, 19, 9 May
1925. The quotation on 'Gianduja e' is from an article signed by Giulio (Colom-
bini), 'Speranze, certezze', dated 13 February 1926.
36 The predecessor of Gianduja, the Gironi of whom we hear from 1630 onwards, was
abolished by Napoleon I because it sounded too much like the name of his brother,
Girolamo. On the political character of Gianduja, often assumed to symbolise the
steadfastness of Piedmont, see P. Michelotti, 'Ricordi di Gianduja', 7 Caval'dbrons,
3, 42, 7 November 1925; Gee (Enrico Gianeri), Gianduja nella storia e nella satira
(Turin, 1962), pp. 8, 94, 151; G. Pacotto, C. Brero and R. Gandolfo, La letteratura in
piemontese dalle origini al Risorgimento (Turin, 1967), pp. 596-7.
37 See A. Accornero, // lavoro come ideologia (Bologna, 1980), pp. 108-9, and 124-36; S.
Bologna, 'Composizione di classe e teoria del partito alle origini del movimento
consiliare', in S. Bologna, G. P. Rawick^fl/., Operaiestato (Milan, 1972), pp. 15ff.
S. Musso, Gli operai di Torino 1900-1920 (Milan, 1980), pp. 200ff.
38 See M. Weber, The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (London, 1930).
39 The collections of workers' life-histories found in Italy offer ample possibilities for
making comparisons with the ideas of work analysed here; see, in particular,
Vallini, Operai del nord; A. Pizzorno, Comunitd e razionalizzazione (Turin, 1960)
(interviews collected by Laura Frontori); P. Crespi, Esperienze operaie (Milan,
1974); P. Crespi, Capitale operaia (Milan, 1976); G. Girardi (ed.), Coscienze operaia
oggi (Bari, 1980).
40 Catherine Rhein has found that work is a key theme in almost all the autobiogra-
phies of unskilled women workers she had collected, but it is referred to in terms of
'absolute necessity and constraint', 'a duty assumed to last a life-time'; see C.
Rhein, La Vie dure qu'on a eue, CORDES-CNRS (Paris, 1980), pp. 54 and 60.
41 In their collection of testimonies of working-class and lower-middle-class women,
Jean McCrindle and Sheila Rowbotham have noted that 'work has taken on
greater meaning' for the younger women and those with an experience of further
education; for them, 'work has been an important aspect of their identities as
independent people'; seej. McCrindle and S. Rowbotham (eds.), Dutiful daughters
(Harmondsworth, 1979), p. 6.1 refer also to ongoing research using oral sources on
women teachers and white-collar workers in Turin, see D. Dolza, 'La scelta
professional delle donne di classe media: il caso delle insegnanti', Fonti orali-studi e
ricerche, 1, 2/3, 1981; L. Passerini, 'Rappresentazioni del lavoro nella memoria delle
donne e autorappresentazioni della ricerca', Igiorni cantati, 2, 2.
42 The connection between manual work and masculine stereotypes, with stress on
the tiring and physical sides of work, are pointed out by Paul Willis in 'Shop floor
culture, masculinity and the wage form', in J. Clarke, C. Critcher and R.Johnson
(eds.), Working class culture (London,1979).
43 This is the direction taken by thought influenced by the typology put forward by A.
Touraine, and by his cautioning about its application; see La coscienza operaia
(Milan, 1969). See the Introduction by Angelo Pichierri to A. Touraine, L'evolu-
zione del lavoro operaio alia Renault (Turin, 1974), pp. xvi-xx. See also the vigorous
critique of every determinist account of relationships between work-situation and
forms of class consciousness in H. Neuendorff and C. Sabel, 'Modeles d'interpre-
tation et categories du marche du travail', Sociologie du travail, 1, 1978, pp. 557.
44 These observations were inspired by Braverman's work, which has been criticised
216 Notes to pages 52-62
for reproducing the nostalgic stereotype of the craftsman, but which has served a
useful role in stimulating debate and new analyses. See H. Braverman, Labor and
monopoly capitalism (New York and London, 1974), especially the final chapter 'A
note on skill', where the limitations of the historical perspective on skill are most
evident. For critical assessments, see Accornero, // lavoro come ideologia, especially
pp. 21ff. and Aut Aut, 172, 1979.
45 Here we are not dealing with the wider 'ambiguities in relation to work' noted by
Studs Terkel in his interviews with people of every age and doing every kind ofjob
in the United States of the 1970s, in his Working (Harmondsworth, 1975), pp. 1-2.
Terkel's workers, given their relative youth and their differing areas of work, are
more strongly affected by an ideology of leisure than our older metal and
engineering workers who are largely untouched by it (see section 13 of this
46 See Bigazzi,' "Fierezza del mestiere"', pp. 895-6,898,913. The article in La Stampa
is dated 23 May 1923.
47 On Britain in the 1910s, see Thompson, The Edwardians, pp. 197-203. For an
analysis of the transition from old to new forms of entertainment at a local level, see
P. Wild, 'Recreation in Rochdale, 1900-1940', in Clarke et al., Working class culture,
pp. 140-60. On inter-war Italy, see G. Consonni and G. Tonon, 'Tempo libero e
classe operaia tra le due guerre', Hinterland, 2, 78, 1979; V. De Grazia, 'La
Taylorisation des loisirs ouvriers: les institutions sociales de l'industrie dans l'ltalie
fasciste', Recherches, 323, 1978; V. De Grazia, Consenso e cultura de massa nelVltalia
fascista (Rome and Bari, 1981), English edition: The culture of consent (Cambridge,
48 The analysis of the recurrence of and correspondence between stereotypes and
visions of the world takes its lead from the methods and presuppositions of content
analysis as outlined by O. R. Holsti, Content analysis for the social sciences and
humanities (Reading, Mass, and London, 1969); M. C. d'Unrug, Analyse de contenu
(Paris, 1974); and L. Bardin, UAnalyse de contenu (Paris, 1977).
49 See Starobinski, 'Le Style de l'autobiographie', p. 258; Lejeune, J* est un autre, p. 9;
Guglieminetti, Memoria e scrittura, pp. 46-7 and 218.
50 See Bach tin, 'Le forme del tempo e del cronotopo nel romanzo', in Estetica e romanzo,
p. 294.
51 See A. Heller, L'uomo del Rinascimento (Florence, 1977), pp. 3423, and, more
generally, pp. 338-62, where she takes up the arguments of R. Pascal on the
specificity of autobiography in Western culture in Design and truth in autobiography
(London, 1960).
52 See W. Dilthey, 'Nuovi studi sulle costruzione del mondo storico nelle scienze dello
spirito' in Critica delta ragione storica (Turin, 1954), pp. 304, 353-4.
53 As, for example, presumes N. Bisseret in 'Langages et identite de classes: les classes
sociales "se" parlent', L'annee sociologique, 25, 1974.
54 This is the argument of M. Burgos in the essays 'Sujet historique ou sujet fictif: le
probleme de l'histoire de vie', Information sur les sciences sociales, 18, 1, 1979; and
'L'Emergence du romanesque dans les histoires de vie paysannes en societes
paysannes et depaysannisation. Les usages de l'histoire de vie, en anthropologie et
en sociologie', Tud Ha Bro (Rennes, 1981).
55 Understood as forms which generate 'expectation', following the definition of
Hans-Robert Jauss, 'Litterature medievale et theorie des genres', Poetique, 1, 1970.
56 On the censorship and cliches imposed on working-class memory, see R. Hoggart,
'A question of tone: problems in autobiographical writing', in Speaking to each other
(Harmondsworth, 1973), vol. 2 and D. Vincent, 'Love and death and the
nineteenth century working class', Social History, 5, 2, 1980. On the importance of
Notes to pages 63-71 217
the oral in popular and proletarian cultures, see the fundamental contributions of
Gianni Bosio, Uintellettuale rovesciato (Milan, 1975), and // trattore ad Acquanegra
(Bari, 1981).
57 See T. Noce, Rivoluzionariaprofessionale (Milan, 1977), pp. 3, 5, 9, 17 and 21.

2 Fascism and the symbolic order in everyday life

1 See R. Zangrandi, // lungo viaggio attraverso il fascismo. Contributo alia storia di una
generazione (Milan, 1976, first complete edition 1962, shorter edition Turin, 1947),
F. Gambetti, Gli anni che scottano (Milan, 1978), D. Lajolo, // voltagabbana (Milan,
2 It is useful to bear in mind the distinction Foucault draws within the concept of
power. What concerns us here is not 'that solid and global kind of domination that
one person exercises over another, but the manifold forms of domination that can
be exercised within society. Not the King in his central position, therefore, but his
subjects in their mutual relations.' See M. Foucault, 'Two Features', in Colin
Gordon (ed.), Power/knowledge (New York and Brighton, 1980).
3 It is not by chance that the oral sources have already been used to reconstruct the
period. See G. Carcano, Strage a Torino. Una Storia italiana dal 1922 al 1971 (Milan,
4 See S. Freud, // motto di spirito e la sua relazione con Vinconscio, in Opere V(Turin, 1972),
p. 162. English edition: Jokes and their relation to the unconscious, James Strachey (ed.)
(London, 1966).
5 See Reports of Chief of Police, Turin, to His Excellency, Head of the Police Forces,
1 January 1940, 31 December 1938, 28January 1938,6 October 1939,9 April 1937,
23 April 1940, 23 December 1940, in Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Central State
Archives), henceforth ACS, Ministero dell'Interno, Direzione di Pubblica
Sicurezza, Divisione Affari Generali, Riservati, ACS, MIDGPSDAGR 1941, b. 57,
f. Turin, and 28 September 1942, 31 March 1942, ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1942,
b. 76, f. Turin.
6 One cannot generalise about resistance to the regime expressed through the basic
culture and in everyday attitudes, not least because Turin was considered to be the
city where Fascism had made little headway. One can find important parallels,
however, in other cases, such as that of Livorno, also a traditional anti-fascist
stronghold. See E. Mannari, 'Tradizione sowersiva e comunismo durante il regime
fascista 1926-43. II caso di Livorno', in Annali Feltrinelli 20, 1979-80.
7 See R. De Felice, Mussolini, il duce, II: Lo Stato totalitario 1936-40 (Turin, 1981),
pp. 8, 82, 85, 88.
8 See A. Aquarone, Uorganizzazione dello stato totalitario (Turin, 1965); N. Tranfaglia,
'La stampa quotidiana e l'avvento del regime 1922-25', and P. Murialdi, 'La
stampa quotidiana del regime fascista', in V. Castranovo and N. Tranfaglia (eds.),
La stampa italiana nell'eta fascista (Rome and Bari, 1980); P. V. Cannistraro, La
fabbrica del consenso. Fascismo e mass media (Rome and Bari, 1975).
9 See P. Barile, 'La pubblica sicurezza', in P. Barile (ed.), La pubblica sicurezza
(Vicenza, 1967), p. 31.
10 See G. Cuomo, 'La liberta di manifestazione del pensiero' in P. Barile (ed.), ibid.,
pp. 224-5, and P. Barile, 'La pubblica sicurezza', p. 28.
11 See Aquarone, L'organizzazione, pp. 47ff for the list of measures adopted from
January 1925, designed to instal a new police state: the occupation of public space
was guaranteed by the prefects, who could disallow, 'for any reason, gatherings,
rallies, processions, public demonstrations'. It provided for the closure of all clubs
and meeting-places under political suspicion, the dissolution of many organi-
218 Notes to pages 72-7
sations, the surveillance of Communists and subversives, surveillance of all those
who held public office, etc. See also the essays of A. Pace, M. Galizia, E. Cheli, in P.
Barile (ed.), Lapubblica sicurezzo-
12 On the invasion of the working class's space for discussion, see M. Gribaudi, 'Un
gruppo di amici - strategic individuali e mutamento sociale', in E. Beltrami et al.,
Relazioni sociali.
13 See the two episodes in ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1935, b. 13/A.f. Turin and b. 7, f.
Turin, respectively.
14 See ACS, MIDGSPSDAGR, 1937, b. 9. f. Turin.
15 See G. Sapelli, 'Macchina repressive, "sovversivismo" e tradizione politica
durante il fascismo', in Mezzosecolo, 2, 1976-7, and 'Participazione politica e
coscienza di classe nel movimento operaio torinese durante il fascismo', in Agosti
and Bravo (eds.), Storia, vol. 3. G. Santomasso, 'Anti-fascismo populare', Italia
contemporanea, 1980, p. 140. The expression 'generic rebellion' is in this last essay,
p. 54. On the formal aspects of organised anti-fascist activity, see R. Luraghi,
'Momenti della lotta antifascista in Piemonte negli anni 1926-43', Movimenti di
liberazione in Italia, 1954, pp. 28-9, and D. Zucaro, Cospirazione operaia: Resistenza al
fascismo in Torino, Milano Genova 1927-43 (Turin, 1965).
16 The cases of law-breaking under examination are classified in ACS, DGPS, DAGR
under the titles 'Movimento sovversivo antifascista', 'Offese a S.E. il capo del
governo', 'Notizie allarmistiche', 'Iscrizioni e disegni sovversivi', 'Attivita e
propaganda anti-fascista', in which the more overtly political cases are often mixed
up with other cases. Generally the offences classified under 'Primo maggio' [May
day], 'Movimento comunista', 'Associazioni sovversivi' etc. belong to the first
category of political cases.
17 See A. Simonini, // linguaggio di Mussolini (Milan, 1978), pp. 13, 14, 20.
18 See T. de Mauro, Storia linguistica delVltalia unita, 2 volumes (Rome and Bari, 1976),
pp. 63-88, 120, 137, 140.
19 See E. Leso, 'Osservazioni sulla lingua di Mussolini', in La lingua italiana e ilfascismo
(Bologna, 1978), pp. 41 and 45. For the definition of Fascism as 'sovereignty of the
word' based on the conviction that it is enough to change names in order to change
men and concepts, see F. Venturi, 'II regime fascista', 2, in Trent'anni di storia italiana
(Turin, 1962), p. 186. P. Spriano has noted, however, that 'fantasising through
words turned into slavery to words themselves', see P. Spriano, 'L'informazione
nelPItalia unita', Storia d'ltalia V: I documenti, 2, p. 1849.
20 L. Canfora, in Ideologie del classicismo (Turin, 1980) interprets the use of the model of
classicism as a 'supreme example of placing limits on discourse and pre-emptively
stopping others speaking', p. 281.
21 The terms used in this quotation refer to the analysis of J. P. Faye, Langages
totalitaires (Paris, 1972) and Theorie du recit (Paris, 1972), pp. 57-62 and 93-8.
22 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1935, b. 13/A. f. Turin.
23 See Leso, 'Osservazioni', pp. 32-3, and M. A. Ledeen, D'Annunzio a Fiume (Rome
and Bari, 1975); R. De Felice, having recognised that Fascism took some
Dannunzian slogans and rituals as its own, insists on the distance between
D'Annunzio and Fascism - see D'Annunzio politico 1918-38 (Rome and Bari, 1978),
p. 146. See also G. Mosse, Uuomo e le masse nelle ideologie nazionaliste (Rome and Bari,
1982), pp. 1039, English edition: Masses and man: nationalist and Fascist perceptions of
reality (New York, 1980).
24 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1941, b. 30, f. Turin.
25 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 27, f. Turin.
26 See I. Silone, La scuola dei dittatori (Milan, 1979), pp. 67, English edition: The school
for dictators (London, 1964). Alberto Menarini, writing in 1946 about the deep
Notes to pages 77-82 219
repercussions of the regime's intervention in language, remarked that 'the public's
linguistic balance has been upset. Language is suffering a serious crisis that is also
accompanied by and reflects that of the mind, due, at least in part, to the treatment
it has been subjected to, by the policy of the last 20 years. This policy goes from one
extreme to another - one moment presuming to dispense forcibly with vital
components (see, for example, the campaign for linguistic autarchy), the next
pumping clumsy and useless neologisms into the language', Ai margini della lingua
(Florence, 1947), p. 35.
27 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1942, b. 27. f. Turin. The reinterpretation of the
initials of the Partito nazionale fascista [National Fascist Party] PNF as 'per
necessita familiare' (out of family necessity) is in the same vein.
28 See E. Sanguined, 'Come parlava il dittatore', UUnita, 12 September 1978 and
M. A. Cortelazzo, 'Mussolini socialista e gli antecedenti della retorica fascista', La
lingua italiana e ilfascismo (Bologna, 1978).
29 The bombardment of words via banners and posters in public places is well
documented in the Luce documentaries. See, for example, 'Roma tappezzata di
bandiere e cartelli antisanzioni', no. 785, 1935; and also 'Torino accoglie Starace',
no. 605, 1935, not forgetting the filming of Mussolini's visits. The rather more drab
and stark everyday images of cities stood in marked contrast to those current at the
time. See, for example, 'Uno sguardo su Torino dall'alto della Mole Antonelliana',
no. 727, February 1931, 'Torino sotto la neve', 518, 1930. See also the notes on the
relationship between celebratory writings and architecture under Fascism: A.
Petrucci, 'La scrittura tra ideologia e rappresentazione', in Storia delVarte italiana 3,
vol. 2; Grqfica e immagine (Turin, 1980), vol. 1, pp. 959. See also A. Bettanini,
'Scritta murale', in Communicazioni di massa, Pio Baldelli (ed.), Encyclopaedia
Feltrinelli Fischer (Milan, 1974), vol. 34, p. 370.
30 The first version was type-written on a strip of paper, stuck on a poster in Corso
Vinzaglio, see ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1937, b. 25, f. Turin. The second was
scratched on a wall of the Royal Home for the Destitute in Corso Casale, see ACS,
MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 7, f. Turin.
31 For the first two parodies, see ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1942, b. 67, f. Turin. For the
third and fourth ones, see ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1942, b. 27, f. Turin. The use of
the fish (an Italian emblem of April Fool's Day) as a symbol of laughter that brings
renewal goes back to ancient popular traditions, particularly those celebrating
Easter as the rebirth of nature and divine life. See V. J. Propp, Edipo alia luce del
folclore, p. 65.
32 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1937, b. 25, f. Turin. The nursery rhyme is recorded
by De Martino as well in Lafinedel mondo, p. 481.
33 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 9, f. Turin.
34 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 7, f. Turin.
35 See A. V. Savona and M. L. Straniero, Canti dell'ltalia fascista (1919-45) (Milan,
1979), p. 5.
36 See A. Gravelli, I canti della rivoluzione (Rome, 1926), pp. 79, 86-8. The quotation at
the beginning of the following paragraph is from p. 11.
37 See L. Mercuri and C. Tuzzi, Cantipolitici italiani, 1793-1945 (Rome, 1962), p. 22.
For an example of the appropriation of the tradition of village bands with a Fascist
repertoire superimposed, see D. Jalla (ed.), La musica. Storia di una banda e dei suoi
musicanti. Piossasco 1848-1980 (Bra, 1980), ch. 8.
38 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 3B5 f. Turin.
39 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1939, b. 26, f. Turin.
40 Giovinezza is a particularly interesting example because it was subject to a great
many adaptations and revisions from its inception. The original melody was from a
220 Notes to pages 82-3
well-known student song, composed by Giuseppe Blano in Turin in 1909, from
Nino Oxilia's text. In the series of subsequent rearrangements, the song became the
official anthem of the Arditi, the assault troops in the First World War. Sub-
sequently a Fascist anthem to the same tune was composed (Su compagni inforti
schieri, 'Onward comrades in strong ranks') and the Triumphal Anthem of the
National Fascist Party (Salve opopolo d'eroi, 'Hail, O people of heroes') to the words
of Salvatore Gotta. There were several versions, parodies and the like, some of
which are recorded in Savona and Straniero's book, Canti. Among our subjects,
Albina Cavaliglione Lusso and Giuseppe Ivaldi remember some verses of the
anti-fascist version of the Giovinezza:
Son banditi son ladroni They are bandits, they are thieves,
sono avanzi di galera They are the prison dross
son la vera mano nera They are the true, black hand,
al servizio del padrone at the service of the boss.
Con le gesta brigantes che With the acts of brigands
son peggior dei pellirossa they are worse than Redskins,
li spaventa Bandiera Rossa the Red Flag makes them quake
perche dovrebbero lavorar 'cause they should be at work.
Delinquenza delinquenza Delinquency, delinquency
del fascism sei l'essenza is Fascism's true reality
coi delitti con la violenza with crimes and with brutality
tu oltraggi la civilta they offend all humanity.
Si chiamavano fascisti They take the name of Fascist,
vanto gloria ed onore claim glory, honour and pride,
in realta sono teppisti They're thugs in reality
sotto il manto tricolore beneath the tricolour they hide.
41 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1941, b. 30, f. Turin.
42 There are many versions of the song Maria Gioana (one of which is already recorded
by Nigra, Canti popolari). I have chosen the one from the record Canzoni in osteria 1,
Dischi del Sole DS 15, on which a group version sung at Marchetto is recorded. It
offers the following translation of some of the verses:
Maria Giovanna was on the doorstep
She was spinning on the doorstep
Tra la la
Her doctor came by:
'What are you doing Maria Giovanna?' Tra la la
'I have the shivers, doctor
and such a bad headache' Tra la la
'If you didn't drink so much wine
the headache would pass' Tra la la
'But when my time comes
I want to be buried in the cellar, tra la la
with a carboy for a pillow
five or six bottles for candles, tra la la
with my legs on the barrel
and my mouth at the spout, tra la la
and the drops falling
I want them to fall into my mouth' Tra la la
43 A written version of the same episode can be found in Luigi Ruffa's letter in
Nuova societa, 1978, 119, p. 52, which, however, locates the episode in JuneJuly
44 See De Mauro, Storia linguistica, pp. 340-1, and Simonini, // linguaggio, pp. 209-10;
the latter also attributes less importance to Mussolini's peasant origins. The
campaign against the importation of foreign words into the language, begun in
1926, culminated around 1935 at the time as Italy was going through difficulties in
international relations.
Notes to pages 83-92 221

45 See Torino, 6, 1936, p. 8.

46 See F. Flora (cd.), Stampa delUemfascista. Le note di servizio (Rome, 1945), pp. 81-2.
In 1937, it had been possible to publish in Milan, Filippo Fichera's book, // Duce e il
fascismo nei canti dialettali d'ltalia, with the aim of praising the regime; see Savona and
Straniero, Canti, pp. 43Iff. Naturally it was difficult to maintain a coherent stance
against dialects in a country like Italy where the diversity of dialects was very great.
(According to Rohlfs, Italian is the richest in variations of all the Romance
speaking regions where a single, national tongue is used.) See De Mauro, Storia
linguistica, pp. 123 and 297-8.
47 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 27, f. Turin.
48 See ACS, MIDGSPDAGR, 1940, b. 27, f. Turin.
49 Savona and Straniero record another version of the refrain, equally grim {Canti,
p. 277).
Negus Niggie
The time has now come to get a move on too
Negus Niggie
Should you refuse, there's a cudgel just right for you!
50 Salvatorelli and Mira, La storia del fascismo, vol. 2, p. 329. On other occasions the
authors expand on the witticisms and songs, but even the example of mockery that
they use concerns political and educated circles from whom members of the
Ligurian (CLN) would have been drawn. See the joke of Rensi's mock death in the
volume cited, p. 390.
51 See E. R. Tannenbaum, Uesperienzafascista - cultura e societa in Italia dal 1922 al 1945
(Milan, 1972), pp. 280-1, English edition: The Fascist Experience; Italian society and
culture, 1922-45 (New York, 1972).
52 The principal example is that of C. E. Gadda, Eros e Priapo {Da furore a cenere)
(Milan, 1967).
53 See S. Satta, Deprofundis (Milan, 1980), pp. 28-30.
54 See S. Freud, // motto di spirito.
55 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1941, b. 30, f. Turin.
56 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 27, f. Turin.
57 See C. Segre, 'II Witz e la pragmatica del testo', report to the convention on
'humorous communication' ('La comunicazione spiritosa'), Venice, 13-14
December 1980.
58 See Freud, // motto di spirito, p. 13.
59 On the relation between observation and transgressions in laughter, see U. Eco, 'II
comico e la regola', Alfabeta, 21, 1981. P. Violi, 'Comico e ideologia', // verri, 3, 1976,
also underlines that humour allows consciousness without requiring the trans-
formation of one's relationship with practice.
60 Henry Bergson was the first to analyse the function of laughter as a social act
repressing deviations that can be interpreted in two senses: either as an act that
completes socialisation, or as the enforcement of social customs. See H. Bergson, Le
rire (Paris, 1981), pp. 15-16, 149-53, 156-7, English edition: Laughter, an essay on the
meaning of the comic (London, 1913). On the function of laughter in everyday social
interaction - sometimes 'lubricant', sometimes 'abrasive', see W. H. Martineau,
'Un modello delle funzioni sociali dello humour' in J. H. Goldstein and P. E.
McGhee (eds.), Lapsicologia dello humour (Milan, 1976), pp. 134ff. English edition:
The psychology of humour: theoretical perspectives and empirical issues (London and New
York, 1972).
61 See T. Adorno, 'Osservazioni sul conflitto sociale oggi', in Scritti sociologici (Turin,
1976), pp. 1857. On the conservative uses of laughter in mass society, see M.
Perniola, 'II Witz come elusione del conflitto', // verri, 3, 1976. This author,
however, attributes this characteristic only to the comic, while he maintains that
222 Notes to pages 92-5
wit always laughs at power and authority. We cannot apply the philosophical
distinction between different forms of laughter and their meanings to the present
analysis, not because of the conflicting points of view, but because it is impossible to
single out pure forms of laughter at an empirical level. It only makes sense
historically to define the meaning of each individual case in context.
62 These are famous examples of puns to which the press was exposed both in its news
and advertisements; in 1941 the press was ordered to remove the phrase 'repeated
breaks in the cordons* during the Duce's visit' (and with good reason Flora writes)
but the order came too late to prevent the publication of'that gem about cordons: it
was sacrilege to laugh at private parts'. See Flora, Stampa, p. 28. Simonini cites a
notice of 1943 that reproached those responsible for the advert: 'Rabbit's wool is
the wool of the Italian people' on the grounds of the 'sarcasm that such an unhappy
use of language has raised and can raise', // linguaggio, p. 219.
63 For attempts to create a culture based on consensus designed to unify the masses in
preparation for, or under dictatorial regimes, see G. L. Mosse, The nationalisation of
the masses (New York, 1975); for Italy, see Cannistraro, Lafabbrica, and above all,
De Grazia, The culture ofconsent. On the importance of such uniformity for a country
like Italy, where a 'profound gulf has always kept the masses away from, and
hostile to, the state', see A. Aquarone, 'Alia ricerca dell'Italia liberate', in Alia ricerca
delVltalia liberate (Naples, 1972), pp. 335ff.
64 See J. Ortega y Gasset, La ribellione delle masse (Bologna, 1974), pp. 9, 95, 102, 119,
124, and T. Mann, 'Attenzione Europa!', in Scritti storici e politici (Milan, 1957),
pp. 277-8, 280-1.
65 The broad outlines of the process (and particularly the analysis of the external
forms of command and the role of the leader) are set out by Max Horkheimer in
'Egoismo e movimento di liberta' in Teoria critica, Scritti 1932-41, vol. 2 (Turin,
1974). On humour as 'juvenile frustration' in a 'false society', see M. Horkheimer
and T. Adorno, Dialettica delVilluminismo (Turin, 1974), pp. 151-3, English edition:
Dialectic of the Enlightenment (London, 1973).
66 Michail Bach tin, in particular, has thought of comic culture as a systematic whole.
But if a reductionist interpretation is to be avoided his contribution must be
understood on a theoretical plane as an almost transcendental idea of the comic,
which cannot be directly transposed to an empirical level of analysis. See also
Propp, Edipo, in particular, 'II riso rituale nel folclore', and 'A proposito della fiaba
di Nesmejana', and P. Radin, C. G.Jung and K. Kerenyi, II Briccone divino (Milan,
1965), English edition: The Trickster: a study in American Indian mythology (New York,
67 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 18, f. Turin.
68 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1937, b. 9, f. Turin.
69 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 9, f. Turin.
70 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 7, f. Turin.
71 See J. Huizinga, Homo ludens (Turin, 1946), pp. 252-3. Huizinga, writing in 1938,
intended by 'puerility' banal forms of amusement, the trend towards vulgar
sensation and mass exhibitionism, the cliquish mentality, the formal, rigid
gestures, such as moving in step, in marching order. In contrast to all this, play is
defined as culture.
72 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1934, b. 16A, f. Turin.
73 This highlights a very old tradition of inscriptions on the walls of latrines, already
recorded in ancient Rome. See J. G. Bourke's classic book Scatologic rites ofall nations

*rottura di cordoni in Italian, which puns on rottura di coglioni (a pain in the arse).
Notes to pages 95-9 223
(Washington, 1891) and A. Dundes, 'Here I sit. A study of American latrinalia', in
Analytic essays in folklore (The Hague, 1975), pp. 178, 180, 189-90.
74 In the system of popular comic culture, as, for that matter, in many systems of
magic, bodily secretions play the dual role of destroying and bringing back to life, of
soiling and purifying. See Bach tin, Uopera di Rabelais\ especially ch. 6. See also the
entry under 'excrement' (escremento) in the Enciclopedia (Turin, 1978), vol. 5, written
by Nicole Belmont, and Mary Douglas, Purity and danger (London, 1966). On the
sense of propriety, which was relaxed to let off steam in highly charged emotional
and intimate situations, see N. Galli de'Paratesi, Le brutteparole. Semantica delVeufe-
mismo (Milan, 1973), pp. 57-9.
75 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1939, b. 16, f. Turin.
76 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1935, b. 7, f. Turin.
77 Bachtin gives some indication of the historical fortunes of the comic - how 'baser
concerns' become private and family matters; how laughter is reduced to sneering
in private, reduced to the level of political and moralising satire. Equally, the shift
from the cosmic to the microcosmic, the loss of the symbolic (and non-practical)
character of the comic and its transference to the individual's mind and body are
signs that comic culture is not in danger of becoming frozen in a static state for
78 The link between defecation and menstruation has been explicitly established in
some cases of scatological folklore as well as in psychology. Bruno Bettelheim takes
up Freud's cloaca theory in his analysis of the myth of male pregnancy among the
Chaga, see Symbolic wounds: puberty rites and the envious male (Glenco, 111., 1962). Mary
Douglas has highlighted the fact that both male and female anatomy lend
themselves to analogy with a container that must not spill, or dilute its vital fluids.
See Purity and danger, p. 193. See also the entry under 'excrement' {escremento) in
79 See E. Nolte, / tre volti delfascismo (Milan, 1978), p. 294, English edition, The three
faces of Fascism (New York, 1969).
80 See G. A. Borgese, Golia. Marcia del Fasdsmo (Mondadori, 1946), pp. 170 and
81 See P. Calamandrei, 'Santo Manganello', // Ponte, October 1952, pp. 1445-52.
82 See M. Douglas, Natural symbols, pp. 99, 103, 105; also Purity and danger, pp. 177-8.
83 The social body could have been the whole nation or the local community, or both,
with the one evoking the other. The reference to the collective was certainly crucial.
Calamandrei always recounts how he heard a story on a journey from Pisa to
Massa, after the Liberation. It concerned a whole village which, in 1922, had been
forced to drink castor oil out of a carboy, on the orders of a Fascist butcher. The
Socialist mayor had to down three cups, the aldermen, two cups and the councillors
one each, right down to the women and children, without sparing anyone. The
storyteller, who had been forced to drink half a cup, was a child at the time. See
'Santo Manganello', pp. 1451-2.
84 See U. A. Grimaldi, 'manganello' (cudgel) insert in the Enciclopedia delVanti-fascismo e
della Resistenza (Milan, 1976), vol. 3, pp. 503-4.
85 See Cortelazzo, 'Mussolini socialista', p. 69 and Simonini, // linguaggio, pp. 1434.
Simonini records some of the typical expressions taken from Mussolinian oratory,
fo. 1921-7 - 'to extirpate the plague', 'cauterise the sores of delinquency', 'sink the
sharp knife in the cancerous flesh', 'put one's finger on the sore', 'practise social
hygiene', 'national prophylaxis', 'burst the most bloated blister of all: freedom',
and finally 'to find the boils and sores of Socialist scrofula, the Giolittian plague and
the clerical scabies'.
224 Notes to pages 100-6
86 See B. Mussolini, Opera omnia, 36 volumes (Florence, 1955-64), vol. 22,
pp. 360-89.
87 The two quotations are taken from // Maglio, 3, n.33, 1939, and 4, n.21, 1940,
88 See, for example, F. Gambetti, Gli anni, pp. 51-2.
89 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1942, b. 27, f. Turin.
90 See the recollection of ritual vendetta in the documentary by Damiano Damiani
on Piazzale Loreto (Channel 3, Rai TV 4 February 1980). Some women had put
vegetables and black bread into Mussolini's hands on his corpse (a typical
reversal of positions, doing to him what had been done to them). Someone had
tried to put a dead rat in his mouth (the animal symbolising, par excellence,
'baseness' and a sign of contempt). Others shot at the dead 'Duce'. These events
can only be understood within the perspective of a symbolic reversal, which was
not just emotionally highly charged but was expressed through a return to ritual
violence. On the ritual desecration of corpses, see N. Zemon Davis, 'The rites of
violence', in Society and culture in early modern France, pp. 152-87. Zemon Davis has
also noted that the crowd seems to oscillate between ritual violence and the world
of comedy, almost as if we were witnessing the mockery and parodies of the
Carnival, of Mardi Gras [Shrove Tuesday].
91 The first anecdote probably refers to one of the episodes in 1922 or 1923, depicted
in the panel by Gianni Perona in the Museum of Anti-Fascism and the
Resistance, near the Museum of the Risorgimento in Turin. This was based on
the testimony of Camilla Ravera. P. Rabotti recalls the episode of 1 May 1923, in
Scelto dalla vita, pp. 1778. The second episode therefore refers to the elections of 6
April 1924.
92 The three quotations are drawn from: ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1932, b. 16, f.
Turin, ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1937, b. 72, f. Turin, ACS, MIDGPSDAGR,
1942, b. 67, f. Turin, respectively.
93 E. Alessandrone Perona, 'Una lettura delle bandiere operaie', in Un 'altra Italia nelle
bandiere dei laboratori (Turin, 1980), p. 29. See also G. Quazza, La lotta sociale nel
Risorgimento (Turin, 1951), pp. 223-44, on the 'fear of reds' that signalled the
change of fortunes for the European uprisings in 1848.
94 See G. A. Williams's introduction, in J. Gorman, Banner bright (London, 1973),
P . i.
95 E. Alessandrone Perona and L. Boccalatte, 'La guerra delle bandiere', in Un'altra
Italia, pp. 49-51.
96 See Borgese, Golia, pp. 178-9. On the rituals and choreography of the Arditi, see
G. Rochat, Gli Arditi della grande guerra. Origini, battaglie e miti (Milan, 1981),
pp. 80-5.
97 See M. Brusatin, Colore, in Enciclopedia, (Turin, 1978), vol. 3.
98 See J. Schneider, 'Peacocks and penguins: the political economy of European
cloths and colors', American ethnologist, 5, 3, August 1978.
99 See 'Vademecum dello stile fascista', from Order Papers of the Party Secretary (Fogli di
Disposizioni del Segretario del Partito), ed. with a preface by A. Gravelli (Rome,
probably 1940), p. 99.
100 Berlin and Kay carried out research into the linguistic terms used to describe
colours, using 20 main languages, and making comparisons with 78 other
languages. This has shown that no matter how many different classes of
fundamental colours different languages have, there are universal semantics of
colour. These are made up of 11 classes from which the fundamental terms for
colours are always drawn. All the languages examined had terms for black and
white, and if a language had three terms, the third designated red. See B. Berlin
Notes to pages 106-13 225
and P. Kay, Basic colour terms (Berkeley, 1969), including the bibliography and
historical appendix. For an analysis of colour informed by a cultural relativist
approach, or rather by 'the empiricist and functionalist interpretation that links
habitual visual perception to cultural and environmental factors', see M. H.
Segall, D. T. Camptell and M . J . Herskovits, The influence of culture on visual
perception (New York, 1966).
101 V. Turner, 'Un problema di classificazione primitiva: la classificazione dei colori
nel rituale ndembu5, in La Foresta dei simboli (Brescia, 1976), pp. 119-20. It is
interesting to note that for Turner the three primary colours not only signify
fundamental experiences of the human body, but also embody a sort of primordial
classification of reality. Thus, contrary to Durkheim's idea that social relations
were the models for the logical relations between objects, Turner proposes the
human organism and its vital experiences as the foundation and origin of all
classifications. The colours black, white and red, therefore, are the synthesis and
condensed expression of the whole field of psycho-biological experience in some
societies, pp. 121-2.
102 See Montaldi, Militanti, p. 300. On the 'fear of red', see G. Bosio's preface to L.
Musini, Da Garibaldi al socialismo: Memorie e cronache per gli anni dal 1858 al 1890
(Milan, 1961).
103 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1939, b. 26, f. Turin.
104 See G. Germani, 'Fascism and class', in S. J. Woolf (ed.), The nature of Fascism
(London, 1968), p. 72.
105 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 36, f. Turin.
106 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 7, f. Turin.
107 The following extract from an article by C. Laudi, 'Garibaldi and Gianduja',
Torino, 5, 1932, pp. 62-6 is interesting in this regard: 'It is said that Garibaldi did
not share that great enthusiasm for Piedmont that he felt so ardently for other
regions of Italy. Gianduja has no desire to wear the red shirt.' Laudi admitted that
'revolutionary upsurges, even if they aspire to an ideal that we share, are not in the
nature of our people, who are, by nature, inclined to order, discipline, love of
work, peace and, in politics, are attached by centuries-old devotion to the House
of Savoy'. However, 'Garibaldi is now worshipped for his ideals' even though at
one time 'Gianduja could see him as "a hot head", now it only sees him as the
108 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1934, b. 16A, f. Turin for the first two quotations;
1936, b. 7C, f. Turin for the third one and 1937, b. 9, f. Turin for the fourth one.
109 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 18, f. Turin. For a list of insults to Mussolini,
see L. Casali, 'E se fosse dissenso di massa? Elementi per una analisi della "conflit-
tualita politica" durante il fascismo', Italia contemporanea, 144, 1981, pp. 115-16.
110 The three cases in ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 27, f. Turin and A. Menarini,
'La lingua nel cinema', in Ai margini della lingua, p. 17-21.
111 See A. Menarini, 'Soprannomi popolari di Mussolini e Hitler', in Ai margini
della lingua, p. 90.
112 He was condemned to five years internal exile under police surveillance (confino).
See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1941, b. 30, f. Turin.
113 For both expressions, see ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1940, b. 27, f. Turin.
114 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1937, b. 25, f. Turin and 1939, b. 26, f. Turin,
115 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1941, b. 30, f. Turin.
116 ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1938, b. 7, f. Turin.
117 See Borgese, Golia, pp. 504-5.
118 See 'Giornale 164', December 1932, at the Luce Institute in Cinecitta.
226 Notes to pages 114-17
119 See G. Bottai, 'Vent'anni e un giorno', quoted by Simonini, // linguaggio, p. 38.
120 See L. Longanesi, Inpiedi e seduti, 1919-43 (Milan, 1948), pp. 80, 121.
121 See Flora, Stampa, p. 94.
122 See Canetti's analysis of Hitler's claim to greatness, his 'superstitious reverence
towards his own rise' and his 'incessant striving to excel by every possible means'.
See E. Canetti, 'Hitler, in base a Speer' in Potere e sopravvivenze (Milan, 1974),
pp. 88-93.
The theme of narcissism in Fascist behaviour, 'the effect of exhibitionism', is
illustrated, in an extraordinary way, by Gadda, Eros e Priapo. One example from
folklore of the relationship infatuation/mimesis is Ernesto De Martino's analysis
of olonism: in the state of olon the 'presence abdicates' and sometimes 'another
presence takes possession of the victim, and makes itself the centre of action.' See
E. De Martino, // mondo magico (Turin, 1973), pp. 92-3.
123 See F. Ciarlantini, 'Ascoltando il Duce', quoted by Simonini, // linguaggio, p. 196.
124 The description refers to the 'Giornale 911', January 1932. Wilhelm Reich relates
biological rigidity to the 'mechanical-authoritarian view of life.' See Mass
psychology of Fascism (London, 1972), pp. 362-77.
125 See, for example, the 'Giornale 1016', December 1936, which reports the
honouring of prolific mothers. Their young children make the Roman salute with
their little hands held high by their mothers.
126 They continued to lose their pay, however, on the religious festivals. If they fell too
close together, as happened with Ascension Day, Corpus Domini and St Peter and
St Paul's Day in 1939, they complained about the financial loss incurred - see //
Maglio, 2, 8, 1938, and 3, 30, 1939. The other public holidays were the Concordat
with the Holy See (11 February), the anniversaries of the foundation of the Fasci
(23 March), the declaration of war (24 May), the discovery of America (12
October) and the King's birthday (11 November). In 1939, the anniversary of
Guglielmo Marconi's birth (25 April), was added to the list, but these did not
entail days off work in industry.
127 See // Maglio, 3, 7, 1939: 'I consigli di fabbrica di sovversiva memoria'.
128 See the first official bulletin of the OND, 1 January 1927, referred to by R.
Cipriani in 'Cultura popolare e orientamenti ideologici', in R. Cipriani (ed.),
Sociologia della cultura popolare in Italia (Naples, 1979), p. 16.
129 See De Grazia, The culture of consent, pp. 2346.
130 See // Maglio, 2, 8, 1938.
131 The Fascist industrial unions in Turin were concerned more with organising
courses in corporatist union culture - including topics like 'psycho-technics',
piecework, corporate law - see // Maglio, 1938-9.
On the spread of these discussion topics across the Turin unions in the first half
of the 1930s, see G. Sapelli, Fascismo, grande industria e sindacato. II caso di Torino
1929-35 (Milan, 1975), pp. 198ff, for example.
132 See // Maglio, 2, 13, 1938, and A. Vergnano, 'Tutela fascista della razza', //
Maglio, 3, 4, 1939.
133 See 'La canzone d'altri tempi e i suoi cultori', Torino, 8, 1931, pp. 736.
134 See Torino, 9, 1930.
135 See Torino, 10, 1936.
136 See Torino, 2, 1932, and 1, 1935.
137 See 'Giornale 910', July 1936 and 'Giornale 991', 1936. It is important that the
folklore themes play a constant role in the Luce films of that time. Here are some
examples: The Ivrea Carnival, 534, 1930; Gressoney: typical costumes, 707, 1931;
Folklore gathering at Pallanza, 847, 1931; the Palio at Asti, 268, 1933 and 474,
1934; Santhia, beanfeast at Carnival, 421, 1934; Munich: the first carnival under
Notes to pages 118-23 227
Hitler's regime, 424, 1934; the Nice Carnival, 425, 1934; the Congress of Popular
Arts of Trento, 540, 1934; the grape harvest at Caluso, 551, 1935; impressions of
the Turin Carnival, 638, 1935 (it presents the amusement park in Piazza Vittorio:
one can catch a glimpse of merry-go-rounds, cages, motorboats, scooters and lions
in a little zoo); Turin: allegorical floats competing for the triennial trophy in the
Sonzini district, 908, 1936; Turin: echoes of Carnival, 1045, 1937; Turin,
Exhibition of the Mountain: a folklore section built in an alpine village, 1239,
1938; the Festival of'Polenta' at the Bormida monastery, 1478, 1939.
For a description and analysis of the themes in the newsreels and documenta-
ries, see M. Argentieri, Uocchio del Regime. Informazione e propaganda nel cinema del
fascismo (Florence, 1979).
138 See 7 Caval 'd brons, 2, 8, 1924. For the old carnivals, see A. R., 'II gran Bogo e i
Carnivali di Torino', and A. Rambaudi, 'I Carnevali di Torino', Torino, 1931, 1,
pp. 356 (the association of'Gran Bogcf*, founded in 1860, had contributed much
to the revival of Carnival); E. Saini, 'Cronaca dei tempi del "Gran Bogo"', Torino,
1937, 1. The Turin Carnival is also mentioned in Bragagnolo and Bettazzi, vol. 1,
pp. 1213-15. See also 7 Caval 'd brons, 3, 18, 1925 and 4, 5-8, 1926.
139 See G. Colombini, Come nacque, visse e mori laprima 'Famija Turineisa* (Turin, n.d.).
140 See G. Drovetti, 'Carnevali torinesi d'altri%tempi', Torino, 1932, 1.
141 See Torino, 1938, 1.
142 See 7 Caval 'd brons, 4, 51, 1926 and Colombini, Come nacque.
143 See M. Galizia, 'La liberta di circolazione e di soggiorno dall' Unificazione alia
Costituzione repubblica', in Barile (ed.), Lapubblica sicurezza, p. 537.
144 See 'Ritorna Carnevale', Torino, 12, 1936, pp. 335. According to one of the 'Notes
and comments' (Appunti e commenti) published in Torino, 2, 1937, signed 'Black-
shirt', the success was remarkable.
145 See 'Ritorna Carnevale di Torino', Torino, 1, 1939, p. 26.
146 See ACS, PNF, SPP, b. 25, Turin, sf. 4, cited by De Grazia, The culture of consent,
pp. 248 and 327.
147 The appropriation of traditional folklore by those in power is a wider problem
than that highlighted here, as account must be taken of folklore, not only as a
means of manipulation, but also as a scientific object. The OND was also
committed at this level, for example, by founding regional museums of ethnogra-
phy. See A. M. Cirese, Cultura egemonica e culture subalterne (Palermo, 1979),
pp. 190-210; S. Puccini and M. Squillacciotti, 'Per una prima ricostruzione
critico-bibliografico degli studi demo-etno-antropologici italiani tra le due
guerre', Problemi del socialismo, 16, 1979, and the appendixes and bibliographies,
afterthoughts and proposals for further research, Studi antropologici italiani e rapporti
di classe. Dalpositivismo al dibattito attuale (Milan, 1980), pp. 201-39. See also, G.
Cocchiara, Storia del folklore in Italia (Palermo, 1981), pp. 203-45; V. Lanternari,
'Le nuove scienze umane in Italia. Genesi e sviluppi', in Antropologia e imperialismo
(Turin, 1974), especially pp. 32434 and Cipriani, Sociologia.
148 See T. Adorno, 'Sulla tradizione', in Parva aesthetica 1958-67 (Milan, 1979),
pp. 27ff.
149 On the ambivalent character of folklore and its potential as an oppositional
culture, see 'Observations on folklore: Giovanni Crocioni' and 'Observations on
folklore: "natural law" and "folklore"', in Gramsci, Selections from cultural writings,
Forgacs and Nowell-Smith (eds.), pp. 188-94, and the debate after the Second
World War, particularly Cirese, 'Concezioni del mondo', pp. 65104 and 142-7.*
See also L. Lombardi Satriani, Antropologia culturale e analisis della cultura subalterna
(Florence, 1976) and 'Culture subalterne e dominio di classe', Classe, 10, 1975.
150 SeeJ. Lacan, 'La topica dell-immaginario' and 'L'ordine simbolico', in Ilseminario,
228 Notes to pages 123-32
Libro 1: Gli scritti tecnici di Freud 1953-4 (Turin, 1978). See also the two entries on
the 'imaginery' and the 'symbolic' in J. Laplanche and J. B. Pontalis, Enciclopedia
della psicoanalisi, 2 volumes (Bari, 1973).
151 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1942, b. 27, f. Turin.
152 'One day it could perhaps be revealed that even the masses in Fascist countries
secretly knew the truth and did not believe the lies, like catatonic patients only
reveal that nothing escaped their notice when they come out of their trance', see
M. Horkheimer, 'Arte nuova e cultura di massa', in Teoria critica (Turin, 1974),
vol. 2, p. 323.
153 See Silone, Scuola dei dittatori,pp. 65-6.
154 See E. De Martino, 'Intorno a una storia del mondo popolare subalterno', Societa,
3, 1949, reprinted in Dibattito sulla cultura della classi subalterne (1949-50), Pietro
Angelini (ed.) (Rome, 1977), p. 61.
155 See B. Croce, 'Fascism as a world threat', New York Times, 28 November 1943, now
in Scritti e discorsi politici (1943-7) (Bari, 1963) vol. 1, p. 14; 'La liberta italiana
nella liberta del mondo' (speech at First Congress of the united parties of the
Committees of Liberation), ibid., pp. 56-7; 'II dissidio spirituale della Germania
con l'Europa', ibid., p. 158.
156 See B. Croce, 'Ingenuita dei censori della storia', in the column 'Notizie e
Osservazioni' (news and comment), Quaderni della critica, 6, 1946, p. 102. F.
Chabod, 'Croce storico', Rivista storica italiana, 64, 4, 1952, especially pp. 518-19.
L. Valiani, 'II problema politico', in A. Battaglia, P. Calamandrei, E. Corbino, G.
De Rosa, E. Lussu, M. Sansone and L. Valiani, Died anni dopo 1945-55. Saggi sulla
vita democratica italiana (Bari, 1955), pp. 46, 68. R. De Felice, Interpretations of
Fascism (Cambridge, Mass, and London, 1977), summarises the whole debate.
157 The 'evil' of Fascism has been analysed at a psychological level by W. Reich in
relation to Nazism, Mass psychology, and by M. Horkheimer and T. Adorno,
'Elementi dell'antisemitismo', Dialettica delVilluminismo. A psychological interpre-
tation of Fascism in the case of Italy as the 'negation' of the death of the fatherland
has been made by E. Fachinelli, La freccia ferma. Tre tentativi di annullare il tempo
(Milan, 1979). This, however, neglects the issues of Fascism as evil and the
conflicts that went with accepting it. The analysis of Gadda, Eros e Priapo is more
useful for defining what constituted the evil in the case of Italy.

3 Forms of social acceptance of Fascism

1 Much research work remains to be done on the behaviour of young people
(especially girls) in relation to Fascist mass organisation. See R. Treves, 'II
fascismo e il problema delle generazioni', Quaderni di sociologia, 13, 2, 1964; P.
Togliatti, 'Le organizzazioni militari-propagandistiche del fascismo', in Lezioni sul
fascismo (Rome), 1970); G. Germani, 'Mobilitazione dalFalto: la socializzazione dei
giovani nei regimi fascisti (Italia e Spagna)', in Autoritarismo, fascismo e classi sociali
(Bologna, 1975); M. Addis Saba, Gioventu italiana del littorio (Milan, 1973).
2 See M. Isnenghi, 'Valori popolari e valori "ufficiali" nella mentalita del soldato',
p. 705; and 'Romanzo dell'Italia fascista: L'eroico imprenditore', Belfagor, 33, 6,
1978, p. 730.
3 See M. Horkheimer, 'Autorita e famiglia', in Teoria critica (Turin, 1974), vol. 1,
p. 313.
4 Here we meet the problem of the continuity between Fascism and democracy,
between Fascism and capitalism. But the aspect that interests us here, that of the
forms of everyday behaviour, has hardly been considered in historiographical
debate. Instead, the problem has been dealt with in terms of certain institutions
Notes to pages 133-9 229
and cultural forms, mainly to emphasise elements of continuity; see G. Quazza
(ed.), Fascismo e societa italiana (Turin, 1973). For an assessment of Fascism's
specificity with respect to capitalism, see A. Aquarone and M. Vernassa, Intro-
duction to II regime fascista (Bologna, 1974).
Exclusive stress on continuities can lead, especially for everyday life, to
underestimating what was new in the way Fascism subsumed habitual forms of
behaviour in different contexts, and made them serve new purposes. In a parallel
way, the stress on Fascism as particular form of regime of the exceptional capitalist
state can mean obscuring the national differences and conflating Fascism with
Nazism; see N. Poulantzas, Fascisme et dictature (Paris, 1970), pp. 8-9, and 386-91.
5 See Passerini, 'Soggettivita operaia e fascismo', pp. 296ff. Barrington Moore has
proposed the hypothesis that Italian Fascism was a 'mixture of frustrated
work-ethic and an attempt to impose a work ethic'; see 'Le basi sociali dell'obbe-
dienza e della rivolta', Comunita, 34, 182, 1980, p. 51.
6 As some research on the working class between the wars shows. See P. P. D'Attore,
'Una dimensione periferica. Piccola industria, classe operaia e mercato del lavoro
in Emilia Romagna, 1920-40' and F. Amatori, 'Strumenti di controllo della forza
lavoro in un grande stabilimento siderurgico degli anni trenta: gli Alti Forni di
Piombino', Annale Feltrinelli 1979-80; P. Rugafiori, Uomini, macchine, capitali. UAn-
saldo durante ilfascismo, 1922-45 (Milan, 1981).
7 On the complex dialectic of 'conflicts' and 'love-affairs' between Catholic and
Fascist hierarchies in Turin in the thirties, see M. Reineri, Cattolici efascisti a Torino,
1925-45 (Milan, 1978), especially pt 2, ch. 2. Of course, we are talking not about
the hierarchies, but about the reflections or reactions of these 'conflicts' and
'love-affairs' at the grass-roots.
8 The reports of the prefects of Turin and thefiduciariof the PNF are always attentive
to 'murmuring' and 'moaning' about economic hardship among the 'worker
element', and to the danger of growth of 'feeling against the regime caused by
material factors'. These phrases are taken from documents of 1931 and 1932, see
ACS, PNF, Situazione Politica e Economica delle Province, b. 25 and Divisione
Polizia Politica, b. 178, f. Fiat.
9 See A. Vergnano, 'Per una evoluzione dell'operaio', // Maglio, 3, 1938; 'E borghese
l'operaio che vuole migliorare?', // Maglio, 43, 1939; M. Bellei, 'Qualifiche di
lavoro', // Maglio, 48, 1939.
10 // Maglio, 12, 1939 proposes to abolish the 'by now ethically superseded red-
democratic term: "labourer" (manovale)\ and to replace it with the term unskilled
worker (operaio comune).
11 See, among others, Lunadei Girolami, 'Partito comunista e classe operaia'; Sapelli,
'La classe operaia durante il fascismo'; V. Castronovo, Giovanni Agnelli. La Fiat dal
1899 al 1945 (Turin, 1977); G. C. Jocteau, La magistratura e i confiitti di lavoro durante il
fascismo 1926-34 (Milan, 1978), pt 3; Saraceno, 'La famiglia'; Musso, 'Proletariato
industriale e il fascismo a Torino'.
12 Frequent observations on worker discontent in those years over, on the one hand,
the cost of living, debts, difficulties of balancing the family budget, and, on the
other, disciplinarianism, fines, and cuts in piece-rates are found in ACS, PNF, Sit.
Pol. Ec. Prov., b. 25; Materia Polizia Politica, b. 7, f. Turin; Divisione Polizia
Politica, b. 178, f. Fiat. See chapter 2 of the present work.
13 See E. Galli Della Loggia, 'Verso gli anni trenta: qualita e misure di una
transizione', Belfagor, 5, 1974.
14 See M. Horkheimer, 'Autorita e famiglia', in Teoria critica, vol. 1, pp. 336-7.
Against the simplistic thesis which overestimates the integration of fathers and
children in the national organisation, and the undermining of the family, Hork-
230 Notes to pages 141-8
heimer maintains that the totalitarian states 'seek also to regulate straightaway the
anti-family tendencies and to limit them to the extent necessary for the conser-
vation of the system'. At the same time, according to this analysis, an important
anti-authoritarian impulse in the family is maintained through the role of the
15 The principal point of reference for those observations is the anthropology of the
'Manchester School'; for extracts, see G. Arrighi and L. Passerini (eds.), Lapolitica
dellaparentela (Milan, 1976), especially the contribution ofj. Van Velsen, The politics
of kinship (Manchester, 1971). For the application of this approach to an Italian
community, see F. Piselli, Parentela ed emigrazione (Turin, 1981). See also the essays
in J. C. Mitchell (ed.), Social networks in urban situations (Manchester, 1969),
especially those of J. A. Barnes, A. L. Epstein, D. M. Boswell, and M. Banton
(eds.), The social anthropology of complex societies (London, 1966).
It should be noted that oral sources offer fresh ideas for an anthropological
analysis of power, but cannot draw on direct observation of behaviour. The lack of
such a comparative dimension precludes any qualitative assessment and the
making of comparisons with models based on detailed information. Such difficul-
ties which make all anthropological studies of the past problematic are accen-
tuated when dealing with periods of dictatorship which leave their mark on the
memory due to their impact on people's lives and the operation of censorship.
16 The observations which follow are taken largely from F. G. Bailey, Stratagems and
spoils (Oxford, 1969). But see also J. Boissevain, Friends of friends (Oxford, 1974).
For a more detailed bibliography on mediators and the significance of the use of
this concept in the Italian context, see G. Gribaudi, Mediatori: Antropologia delpotere
democristiano nel Mezzogiorno (Turin, 1980), and the Introductory Note by
E. Grendi.
17 On the importance of subjective choices, the analysis of F. Barth is crucial. This
emphasises the role of values and intentionality in shaping behaviour. Pertinent in
relation to our analysis is his principle that choice 'is not synonymous with
freedom, and men and women rarely make choices under circumstances of their
own making'. See, in particular, the four essays on models of social organisation in
Process and form in social life, vol. 1, London, 1981.
18 See Vademecum dello stile fascista, p. 46.
19 See Salvatorelli and Mira, Storia d'ltalia nel periodo fascista, vol. 2, p. 318.
20 See D. Fisichella, Analisi del totalitarismo (Messina, Florence, 1978), pp. 225ff;
A. Aquarone and M. Vernassa, Introduction to // regime fascista, pp. 16-17; H.
Arendt, Le origini del totalitarismo (Milan, 1978), pp. 439-40, 651, 655. As is
well-known, Hannah Arendt considers the Italian regime a one-party dictatorship
and not a totalitarian system, pp. 427-8, English edition: Origins of totalitarianism
(London, 1958). See also A. Messeri, 'U totalitarismo: H. Arendt, C. J. Freidrich
e Z. D. Brzezinski', in L. Cavalli (ed.), Ilfascismo nelVanalisi sociologica (Bologna,
1975), pp. 148-9.
21 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1935, b. 13/A, f. Turin; 1938, b. 7, f. Turin; 1936,
b. 7a, f. Turin; 1941, b. 30, f. Turin.
22 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1936, b. 7a, f. Turin; 1937, b. 9, f. Turin; 1941, b. 30, f.
Turin; 1939, b. 26, f. Turin; 1938, b. 3/B, f. Turin.
23 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1939, b. 26, f. Turin; 1940, b. 40, f. Turin; 1941, b. 31,
f. Turin.
24 See G. Amato, Individuo e autorita nella disciplina della liberta personale (Milan, 1967),
p. 268.
25 See E. Gentile, Le origine dell'ideologia fascista (1918-1925) (Rome and Bari, 1975),
pp. 42Iff.
Notes to pages 148-56 231
26 These are the words of the head of police, Bocchini, addressed to the prefects in
1926, quoted by Aquarone, L'organizzazione, p. 100.
27 See J. Habermas, Storia e critica dell'opinione pubblica (Bari, 1971); also 'Sfera
pubblica', in Culturaecritica (Turin, 1980); see the entry entitled 'Pubblico e privato',
edited by Norberto Bobbio in Enciclopedia, vol. 2 (Turin, 1980).
28 See Habermas, Storia e critica, pp. 246-7.

4 Resistance to demographic policy

1 The women cited in this chapter are given the following pseudonyms: Fiora,
Angela, Emma, Tosca, Amelia, Malvina, Anna, Clotilde, Carmen, Teresa. Cleofe
appears in only one dialogue and was not part of the group of 33 interviewees. In
statements of a general nature the usual names are kept.
2 It is worth noting that Anselmo's joke undermines an internationally held belief
that everything to do with birth control is somehow linked to France. See L.
Gordon, Women's body, women's right. A social history of birth control in America
(Harmondsworth, 1977), p. 52.
3 See Salvatorelli and Mira, La storia del fascismo, vol. 1, pp. 5736 and vol. 2,
pp. 346-50. M. Livi Bacci, Donna, pp. 349-2. D. V. Glass, Population policies and
movements in Europe (London, 1967), ch. 5.
4 On the cost-benefit analysis of a large offspring, and on the general implications of
the convergence of population studies and women's studies, see N. Birdsall,
'Women and population studies', Signs, 1, 3, 1976, and S. Schwartz Tangri, 'A
feminist perspective on some ethical issues in population programs', Signs, 1, 4,
1976, and the ensuing debate in the same journal in issues 2,4, 1977 and 3, 2, 1978.
See also E. Sonnino, 'Le determinanti del comportamenti riproduttivo', Inchiesta,
10, 45, 1980.
5 On the differing results in this area, according to the type of work, see A. De Grand,
'Women under Italian Fascism', The Historical Journal, 19, 4, 1976; I. Vaccari, La
donna nel ventennio fascista (1919-43) (Milan, 1978); C. Saraceno, 'Percorsi di vita
femminile nella classe operaia. Tra famiglia e lavoro durante il fascismo', Memoria,
2, 1981.
6 See P. Meldini, Sposa e madre esemplare. Ideologia e politica della donna e della famiglia
durante il fascismo (Florence, 1975). It has been argued that because of pre-existing
ideologies, deeply rooted in the unconscious, the vague and contradictory Fascist
ideology relating to women may have won the consent of women themselves. (This
analysis has some basis but also suffers from vagueness and inadequate documen-
tation.) See M. A. Macciocchi, La donna 'nera'. cConsenso3femminile efascismo (Milan,
1977) and 'Female sexuality in Fascist ideology', Feminist review, 1, 1979. See in the
same issue Jane Caplan's introduction.
7 See G. Pomata, La scienza e coscienza (Florence, 1979), p. 93. Consideration should
also be given to the continuity between the different forms that the ideology of
maternity takes in capitalist societies and the particular versions developed by
Fascist regimes. For the general questions see the special issue, Nuova DWF,
'Maternita e imperialismo', 6-7, 1978 and E. Badinter, L'amore in piu. Storia
dell'amore materno (Milan, 1981).
8 Two narrative forms are mixed up here - that of 'always having been a rebel' and
that of 'progress'. The one feeds the other and gives it meaning. It is the
circumstances that alter, while the indomitable protagonists, remaining as they
were, change them.
9 On the history of neo-Malthusian movements in France, see F. Ronsin, La Greve des
venires. Propagande neo-malthusienne et baisse de la nataliteen France (19e-20e siecles) (Paris,
232 Notes to pages 156-9
1980); in Britain and the United States: N. Himes, Medical history of contraception
(New York, 1963), pt 5, Chs. 9-12, A. McLaren, Birth control in nineteenth century
England (London, 1978), Gordon, Women's body.
10 See F. Pieroni Bortolotti, Femminismo epartitipolitici in Italia 1919-26 (Rome, 1978),
p. 381. The author recalls the contribution of 1926 of 'Quarto Stato' to the
demographic problem: its proposals for the legislation of abortion and the spread of
contraception and social services, but the lack of any consideration of women's
right to choose. The only voice raised in favour of the legislation of abortion in
relation to women's needs was that of Camilla Ravera in Uordine nuovo in 1921,
p. 107ff.
Given the lack of research in this field, it is not possible to say how widespread
was the silence about contraception and abortion in Italy, resulting from Catholic
upbringing and socialist taboo. In the pre-fascist period some efforts had been
made: for example a neo-Malthusian association was founded in Italy in 1913 by
Dr. Luigi Berta, who also published the periodical L'educazione sessuale. Mussolini,
who was then a fervent supporter of neo-Malthusian ideas, had replied to a
questionnaire on birth control sent out by the association that he was convinced
that birth control was a wise, responsible and honest act, that courts had no right to
judge theories and doctrines, and he advocated sex education and contraceptive
advice wholeheartedly, especially for the working class. See D. V. Glass, Population
policies, p. 450. References to the problem in Italy can be found in C. Ravera, Breve
storia del movimento femminile in Italia (Rome, 1978), pp. 102-15; F. Pieroni Borto-
lotti, Socialismo e questione femminile in Italia, 1892-1922 (Milan, 1974), pp. 91-2.
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Franca Pieroni Bortolotti and
Anna Treves for their advice on these and other issues dealt with in this chapter.
11 See A. Treves, 'La politica fascista per la natalita: un ipotesi si ricerca', report to
the conference 'Agricoltura e forze sociali in Lombardia nella crisi degli anni
Trenta', Milan, 27-9 May 1981 (proceedings to be published). For an assessment
of the demographic policies of authoritarian states and particularly Italy, see M. R.
Reinhard, A. Armengaud and J. Dupaquier, Histoire generale de la population mondiale
(Paris, 1968), pp. 521-2. See also P. Luzzatto-Fegiz, 'La politica demografica del
fascismo', Annali di economia, 12, 1937, pp. 114 and 121, according to whom
'measures concerning mortality probably brought more fruitful results' (this refers
to the increased average life expectancy of 5 years between 1921 and 1931), while
other measures such as the demographic laws and bonuses for large families 'have
more of a propaganda than real effect'.
12 On the birth-rate in the second half of the 1930s in some provinces with a low rate,
especially in northern Italy, see L. Livi, 'Sui risultati della politica demografica in
Italia', Economia, 25, 1, 1940, which is based on a comparison between the periods
1928-33 and 1933-8, and U. Giusti, 'L'andamento della natalita in Italia nel
decennio 1931-40 e i suoi aspetti ambientali', Economia, 27, 3-4, 1941.
13 S e e P. Festy, La Fecondite des pays occidentaux de 1870 a 1970 (Paris, 1 9 7 9 ) , p p . 1 1 7 ,
175, 178, 180.
14 See, for example, Livi Bacci's important book Donna, which argues that contracep-
tive methods were always spread through contact of the more advanced regions
with the less developed ones. Women are quick to 'adapt' to the developed urban
social scene. Immigrant women accept contraceptive practices because they are
'exposed to their influence in the new environment', pp. 336-9.
15 See B. Cassinelli, // nuovo Codice Penale commentato articolo per articolo e raffrontato col
Codice abrogato (Rome, 1931), pp. 471 and 567; S. Drago, 'La tutela della stirpe in
regime fascista. II Titolo Decimo del Codice Rocco nei lavori preparatori, nella
giurisprudenza', Annali di diritto eprocedura penale, 8, 1939, pp. 572-3 and 574.
Notes to pages 159-62 233
16 The movement to establish birth-control clinics in Britain and the United States
extends beyond the inter-war period, but first brought results in the period
1920-40. Apart from the works by Himes and Gordon cited, see J. Reed, From
private vice to public virtue. The birth control movement and American society since 1830 (New
York, 1978) which is important for its summary of liberal and conservative
initiatives on birth control; M. Simms, 'Parliament and birth control in the 1920Y,
Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, February 1978, pp. 837; M.
Simms, 'Abortion: the myth of a golden age', in Controlling women. The normal and
the deviant, B. Hutter and G. Williams (eds.) (London, 1981), pp. 168-84. In the
same period of the 1930s, however, serious restrictions were imposed on abortion
rights in the Soviet Union (1936), and a shift took place from a libertarian to a
restrictive demographic policy in France (1939). For Italy see Treves, 'La politica',
E. Altavilla, Delitti contro la persona. Delitti contro la integritd e la sanitd della stirpe
(Milan, 1934), p. 310.
17 See, for example, McLaren, Birth control, D. Scott Smith, 'Family limitations,
sexual control and domestic feminism in Victorian America', Feminist studies, 1, 34,
1973; B. Hayler, 'Abortion', Signs, 5, 2, 1979.
18 Apart from the works by Himes, Gordon and McLaren cited, see P. Aries, 'Sur les
origines de la contraception en France', Population, 8, 1953, and 'Interpretation
pour une histoire des mentalites', Institut National d'etudes demographiques, La Preven-
tion des naissances dans lafamille. Les Origines dans les temps modernes, Travaux et documents,
cahier 35 (Paris, I960). See also in the same collection J. Sutter, 'Sur la diffusion
des methodes contraceptives', and H. Bergues, 'Sources et documentation'. See
also J. L. Flandrin, La famiglia. Parentela, casa, sessualita nella societa pre-industriale
(Milan, 1979).
19 See A. Visco, L'aborto criminoso nell diritto penale, nella medicina legate, nella politica
demografica (Milan, 1941), p. 97. O. Fraddioso, 'II nucleo familiare in relazione alia
politica razzista', Maternita e infanzia, 2, 1939.
20 See ACS, Ministero di Grazia e Giustizia, Direzione Generale. Affari Penali
(MGG, DGAAPP), Uff. 1-3, Classificazione 64, 1938-44. The names of persons
cited in these legal proceedings have also been kept anonymous. It may be of
interest to list the number of files per city for the years under consideration:

City 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942

Ancona 44 45 29 22 22
Aquila 5 16 28 28 14
Bari 13 15 6 3 2
Bologna 129 79 63 48 47
Brescia 76 40 62 73 34
Cagliari 13 14 6 7 10
Catania 14 3 7 4
Catanzaro 14 21 12 8 7
Florence 31 20 46 51 34
Genoa 69 58 46 34 26
Messina 19 11 11 8 7
Milan 131 146 106 83 75
Naples 84 65 56 50 39
Palermo 11 10 7 2 1
Rome 105 91 179 120 100
Turin 136 116 86 82 55
234 Notes to pages 162-3
City 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942

Trieste 70 42 39 23 10
Venice 98 105 63 51 56
Caltanissetta 2 1 4
Fiume 12 4 4 2 1
Lecce 8 9 11 16
Perugia 20 18 11 4 3
Potenza 1 4
Trento 33 62 20 5 3

21 SeeACS,MGG,DGAAPP,Uff. l-3,Classificazione64,1939, b. 80 and 1938, b. 28.

22 For example, of the 116 cases in 1939, only 7 cases concerned people resident in
Turin, of whom two were acquitted on the grounds that the act had not been
committed (unheeded incitement to abortion), and only 4 of the 82 cases in 1941
were residents of Turin. In other cases women were implicated who came from
small towns, even outside the province, to have their abortions in the city, and this
obviously included abortions performed in Cuneo, Novara, Alexandria. The
reason for the higher incidence of known abortions in small towns compared to the
large city was undoubtedly due to the greater social social control of a personal kind
in the former. Reading the files demonstrates that abortions were discovered not
only because of complications, but also because of suspicions aroused through
watching behaviour closely or picking up rumours spread in the community. In
Turin, there were some cases reported by anonymous phone call. However, the
high incidence of home abortions in small towns was probably due to lesser access
to abortions performed by qualified medical personnel, rather than to lack of
financial means.
23 See ACS, MGG, DGAAPP, Uff. 1-3, Classificazione 64, 1941, b. 205; 1940,
b. 138; 1939, b. 80.
24 According to the theory of the continuity of birth control in popular culture in the
face of the bans imposed by Church and moralists alike, some methods were
continued secretly and independently of official medicine, as also happened in the
case of abortion when it was outlawed in the 19th century. The continuity with
later periods is demonstrated by the similarity in methods of abortions, performed
outside of medical channels (Gordon, Women's body, p. 36).
Both views and methods of abortion in popular culture are recorded by Z.
Zanetti, La medicina delle nostre donne (1892) (Foligno, 1978), pp. 116-18. Vincenzo
Borruso rediscovered many popular methods (herbal concoctions, mechanical
means and violent physical exercises) in Sicily in the early 1960s. See Pratiche
abortive e controllo delle nascite in Sicilia (Palermo, 1968).
On the magical aspects of abortion and contraceptive practice, see D. Visca, //
sesso infecondo. Contraccezione, aborto e infanticidio nelle societa tradizionali (Rome, 1977);
Uerba delle donne (Rome, 1978).
25 This last method could be fatal. In one case vaginal douches with a caustic
substance dissolved in water were performed by a neighbour on a girl between the
fifth and sixth month of pregnancy, who subsequently died from poisoning. See
ACS, MGG, DGAAPP, Uff. 1-3, Classificazione 64, 1939, b. 80. Further infor-
mation, other than that in the files already cited, can be found in the following:
1938, b. 27 and b. 84; 1939, b. 81; 1940, b. 139; 1941, b. 206.
26 P. Knight, 'Women and abortion in Victorian and Edwardian England', History
workshop, 1977, 4, p. 60, and Gordon, Women's body.
Notes to pages 163-70 235
27 With reference to aiding and abetting the execution of the crime of abortion, see
Visco: 'Forms of aiding and abetting include giving the address of the doctor or
midwife or accompanying the pregnant woman. More than advice, this constitutes help,
because without it the woman would probably not be able to carry out her
intention.' (L'aborto criminoso, p. 426.)
28 The method Malvina used crops up again in different variations according to time
and place. In the trials for abortion mention is made several times of hot water
enemas 'with boiling hot soapy water', 'soapy water douches', 'jets of soapy water'
either into the vagina or the womb (see, for example, ACS, MGG, DGAAPP, 1941,
b. 205 and 206.) The presence of an enema set in the house was considered as
evidence of means to perform abortion, see ibid., b. 205. Visco speaks of Tarnier's
instrument 'that has a rubber inflatable bag at the end of it which, when inserted
into the womb between the egg and uterine wall and blown up with water, detaches
the membrane', and reports, citing Lazarewitch in support, that even douches of
pure hot water at 95 have the same effect (L'aborto criminoso, p. 65). At the
beginning of the 1960s, Borruso came across this practice in Sicily - vaginal
douches with hot or cold water, then soapy water, using common enema sets fitted
with a vaginal tube (Pratiche abortive, p. 65) and its effectiveness is confirmed in A.
Delia Volta, Trattato di medicina legale (Milan, 1933).
29 However, refusal by doctors has been analysed in several historical situations and
it has emerged how important was the threat to their professionalism, apart from
the ignorance and general lack of interest in the medical profession in women's
problems and lives. See McLaren, Birth control, pp. 232 ff. One should reflect on the
fact that the period of a woman's fertility was not accurately defined until 1924, and
that decades passed before such knowledge was widespread. See Gordon, Women's
body, p. 45. According to Gordon, at the beginning of the 19th century women were
effectively robbed of the intimate and knowledgeable relationship with their own
bodies, except for those well-off enough to afford a reliable doctor, ibid, p. 70. The
argument is that only in the 19th century was a taboo imposed on language and
sexuality which deprived women of knowledge of and rights over their own bodies,
which the popular tradition of magic healing had offered them, albeit in secrecy, in
modern times.
30 See ACS, MGG, DGAAPP, Uff. 1-3, Classificazione 64, 1940, b. 138 and 1941,
b. 206.
31 Confindustria figures for February 1937, in V. Zamagni, 'Distribuzione del reddito
e classi sociali nell'Italia fra le due guerre', Annali Feltrinelli, 1979-80, p. 31.
Zamagni notes that a single average salary could not support an average family of
four, which required at least two incomes.
32 See ACS, MGG, DGAAPP, Uff. 1-3, Classificazione 64, 1941, b. 206. The women
were acquitted for insufficient evidence and the tram driver for not having
committed the offence.
33 In 1941, the Ministry of Justice sent a circular to magistrates that demanded
particular attention be paid to any links between offences which might point to
'signs of the industrialisation of abortion which takes place especially in large
urban centres'. See 'Contro i read d'aborto', Maternita e infanzia, 1941, 4, p. 164.
34 See ACS, MGG, DGAAPP, Uff. 1-3, Classificazione 64, 1939, b. 80.
35 See B. A. Nardi, 'Modes of explanation in anthropological population theory:
biological determinism vs self-regulation in studies of population growth in third
world countries', American anthropologist, 1, March 1981, p. 49.
36 Only in the 1970s did the legislative framework concerning contraception and
abortion change in Italy in the following stages:
1971 - the Constitutional Court judgement on the unconstitutional nature of the
236 Notes to pages 171-2
norms of the penal code that prosecuted people for the offences of
disseminating contraceptive advice and information, and for disseminating
or selling contraceptives.
1975 - the establishment of family planning services.
1978 - the setting up of a national health service and the approval of a law on the
voluntary termination of pregnancy.
As well as the maintenance of old legislation, there were the opinions of many
lawyers and doctors. One need only scan the literature on abortion in the 1950s to
find all the Fascist arguments repeated.
37 The fact that it was normal to work hard during pregnancy and, in the case of
peasants, sometimes up to a few hours before birth, made miscarriage a frequent
occurrence. Miscarriage due to work was also high among industrial workers, as
Professor Allaria noted in the case of Turin on the basis of the data for 1898-1919.
To be more specific, according to the statistics of the Royal Paediatric Institute of
the University of Turin concerning 3,248 mothers in 1915-19, overall 2.5% of
miscarriages were due to work, 29.7% to overwork, while for industrial workers the
percentages were 23.9% and 5%, respectively. Nearly all miscarriages at work
happened to machinists and weavers owing to the perpetual stress from the
pedal-operated sewing machine or loom. However, miscarriages among workers in
the State Tobacco Manufactory was less frequent. According to an inquiry of 1908,
19% of married women working in large-scale private industry had had one or
more miscarriages, while for their equivalents in the state sector (almost all tobacco
workers) the percentage was 14%. See G. B. Allaria, IIproblema demogrqfico italiano
osservato da unpediatra (Turin, 1935) pp. 11517. I do not mean to attribute the lack
of guilt about abortion to a habitual response resulting from frequent miscarriage,
but rather to recall the very pressing situations in which our subjects had to make
their decisions. However, inquiries carried out in other countries on women's
reactions to the experience of abortion suggest a link between a sense of guilt and
social disapproval on the one hand, and sexual ignorance on the other. See, for
example, the results of the inquiries carried out in Canada: E. R. Greenglass, After
abortion (Don Mills, 1976); in France, M. Manceaux, Abortoper non morire. Parlano le
donne della cintura rossa di Parigi (Milan, 1976); in Italy, Sesso amaro. Trentamila donne
rispondono su maternita, sessualita, aborto (Rome, 1977). Many testimonies also refer to
the sense of relief and liberation. See The Boston Women's Health Book
Collective, Noi e il nostro corpo. Scritto dalle donne per le donne (Milan, 1977), p. 306,
English edition: Our bodies, ourselves (Harmondsworth, 1981).
38 See M. P. Casarini, 'Maternita e infanticidio a Bologna: Fonti e linee di ricerca',
Quaderni storici, 49, 1982, which from the trials of 1816-23, analyses a popular belief
which confused gestation with an illness, 'madrazza', and interpreted birth as 'the
expulsion of blood built up in the woman's body owing to a long stoppage in the
menstrual flow', p. 281. The expression 'to draw out the dead blood' could be an
echo of the ancient practice of blood-letting the feet to induce abortion. See G.
Pomata, 'Barbieri e comari', in Cultura popolare neWEmilia Romagna, Medicina erbe e
magia (Bologna, 1981), pp. 1314. Zanetti records that in Umbrian peasant culture
abortion is referred to as 'throwing out', La medicina, p. 116.
39 See Allaria, II problema demografico, p. 118.
40 On the change brought about in the Mediterranean world by Christianity in
relation to abortion, see J. T. Noonan (ed.), The morality of abortion. Legal and
historical perspective (Cambridge, Mass., 1970). On the attitude of the Church
historically, see J. T. Noonan, Contraception. A history of its treatment by Catholic
theologians and canonists (Cambridge, Mass., 1965). See also A. Tocci, II procurato
aborto. Trattato medico legale (Milan, 1954), pp. 25-6.
Notes to pages 172-8 237
41 D. Gittins, 'Married life and birth control between the wars', Oral history, 3,2,1975,
shows that such an argument is unfounded for a group of working women whose
main source of information about birth control had been friends and fellow
workers. See also D. Gittins, Fair sex, family size and structure 1900-39 (London,
1982), pp. 176 T.
42 See, for example, in Meldini, Sposa e madre esemplare, the propagandist writings of
M. Pompei, L. Riggio Cinelli, M. Giobbe. The latter wrote (p. 285): 'It is a vain
illusion to replace the innocent smile of a baby with the ugly grimace of a pekinese.
The two hundred thousand high-class dogs which, according to the statistics, live
in the bourgeois apartments of Paris, are both testimony and indictment. They
testify to the instinctive human tendency to fill the void in one's emotional life with
affection, and they indict those who evade the human and divine call to procreate.'
43 See G. B. Dotti, 'II compito della levatrice nell' ONMI', Maternita e infanzia, 6,
1936; F. Valtorta, 'Quanto possa e debba la levatrice in favore della campagna
demografica', Maternita e infanzia, 7, 1937; circular 158, 15 April 1939, reprinted in
Maternita e infanzia, 2, 1939; and the code of practice for midwives, embodied in the
Royal decree of 26 May 1940, reprinted in Maternita e infanzia, 4, 1941, which
abrogated and replaced the preceding code of practice of 1928.
44 See G. Tagliacarne, 'Infanticidio, abbandono d'infante e procurato aborto nella
vita sociale studiati sulle nostre statistiche della criminalita', Giornale degli economisti
e rivista di statistica, 65, August 1925, p. 405.
45 See Visco, Uaborto criminoso, pp. 32, 45 and 418. Visco complains that the defence
always had a good go at sowing doubts that the abortion was induced rather than
spontaneous. This was so much the case that in 1935, out of 1,425 prosecutions,
only 15 ended with a sentence; in 1936, of 2,039 cases, only 13; in 1937 of 2,647,
only 22; in 1938 of 2,547, only 45; in 1939, of 1,406, only 33 (p. 149).
46 See D. Detragiache, 'Un aspect de la politique demographique de l'ltalie fasciste: la
repression de l'avortement', Melanges de VEcole francaise de Rome, 92, 2,1980; P.
Pagani, 'L'aborto nel quadro della denatalita divagazioni statistiche', Economia,
22, 1, July 1938; Visco, L'aborto criminoso, p. 31; G. Neppi Modona, 'La magistra-
tura e il fascismo', in G. Quazza (ed.), Fascismo e societd italiana (Turin, 1973), pp.
47 See Visco, L'aborto criminoso, pp. 191-2. On the bill for compulsory registration of
maternity, see also P. Gaifami, 'L'assicurazione di maternita in Italia', Maternita e
infanzia, 1, 1936, and the report of the debate in Maternita e infanzia, 1, 1941.
48 See Pagani, 'L'aborto', p. 25. and Gassinelli, // nuovo Codice Penale, p. 875.
49 See the entry 'Aborto' (Abortion), E Alfieri (ed.), Enciclopedia italiana (Miland and
Rome, 1929), vol. 1, p. 110.
50 See 'Quale e la frequenza "effettiva" dell'aborto?', Maternita e infanzia, 6, 1938, 388
and G. Lucici, 'Costituzione e natalita', Dife sa della razza, 5, March 1939.
According to the authors the rate of abortions was calculated as ranging from
between 5 and 30-40 per 100 conceptions. Most estimates converge at around
15-20 per 100, but for widely divergent reasons, and cannot therefore be taken as
firmly grounded. Suffice it to say that various authors accept different notions of
miscarriage - some confine it to foetuses expelled before the sixth month, others to
those before the seventh month, others even include deaths soon after birth. See S.
Alberti, 'Sulla frequenza degli aborti nella popolazione milanese desunta da
osservazioni ospitaliere', in CISPP, Atti del Congresso Internazionale per gli studi sulla
popolazione, Rome, 7-10 September 1931, vol. 7 (Rome, 1934), p. 119.
51 F. Buonomo la Rossa, 'Cause e frequenza degli aborti', Maternita e infanzia, 1941,
5, p. 207.
52 See G. Tagliacarne, 'La frequenza degli aborti secondo i rilievi della Cassa di
238 Notes to pages 178-88
Maternita', Economic 17, 6, June 1936. According to F. Savorgnan, there was a rise
in the incidence of abortion only for 1919. See 'L'aumento di mascolinita delle
nascite durante la guerra e la frequenza degli aborti', Economia, 18 (NS), 1-2,
July-August 1936.
53 See G. Tagliacarne, 'Infanticidio', pp. 423.
54 See A. Spallanzani, 'I reati di infanticidio e di procurato aborto secondo le
statistiche giudiziarie italiane', in CISPP, Atti, pp. 161-96.
55 See V. Perotti Porrera, 'Ricerche sulla frequenza e sulla exiologia delPaborto in
una citta industriale', in Scritti degli allievi dedicati al Prof. G. B. Allaria nel XXVanno di
cattedra (Turin, 1938) (women who were pregnant for the first time and miscarried
were excluded from these statistics). The quotations from Allaria are taken from //
problema demografico, p. 117.
56 See F. Giglio, 'Di alcuni fattori che hanno influenza sull'abortivita', in CISPP, Atti,
pp. 197-211. The investigation covers 8,477 mothers who recovered in the
Obstetrics Clinic of Milan University between 19246. See also the work cited by S.
57 See C. Alessandri, 'Demografia ed economia', Maternita e infanzia, 2,1934, and the
report of the third meeting of the Comitato di Consulenza sugli Studi della
Popolazione (Advisory Committee for the Study of Population), 13 November 1938,
Maternita e infanzia, 1, 1939, 53. N. Federici, 'L'evoluzione della fecondita in Italia e
nelle sue regioni', Inchiesta, 10, 45, 1980; Livi Bacci, Donna, pp. 290 ff. and
Saraceno, 'La famiglia', p. 206.
58 See M. Pochini, 'Caratteristiche delia prolificita legittima in Torino', in Scritti degli
allievi dedicati alprof. G. B. Allaria, pp. 414-15 and 428.
59 See A. Molteni, 'Denatalita e Impero', Maternita e infanzia, 11, 1936, Tagliacarne,
'Infanticidio', p. 432; Luzzatto-Fegiz, 'La politica demografico', p. 121.
60 See Nardi, 'Modes of explanation', and J. and P. Schneider, 'Unraveling Malthus:
the demographic transition in a Sicilian agrotown', unpublished, 1982.

5 Mussolini's visit to Mirafiori

1 See P. Gobetti, 'La citta futura', in // Lavoro of Genoa, 3 November 1923. Now in P.
Gobetti, Scritti politici (Turin, 1969), p. 551.
2 See the account of the events of 25 October in Fiat - pubblicazione mensile illustrata, 4,
6, November-December 1923. Here too the silence is mentioned, but it is a 'deeply
religious silence' during which 'thousands of eyes were fixed on the firm-set features
of the President [of the Council]'. When he left Fiat's, 'the applause was sustained,
testifying again to the belief that everyone placed in his achievements'.
3 See Avanti! dated 24 and 26 October 1923. Other local papers - La Stampa, La
Gazzetta del Popolo and // Piemonte - mention only the applause in their accounts of
the visit of 25 October, thereby censoring news of the workers' cold response.
Avanti! comments ironically that La Stampa refers to the 'icy' reception as 'defer-
ence'. However, a reference to the episode appears in La Stampa of 7 November 1923
in an article entitled 'A meeting of Fiat workers', which reports the case put by the
Honourable Bardanzellu, political secretary of the Fascio, who said: 'The coldness
shown by the workers of Fiat on the occasion of Mussolini's visit was not in their
hearts but was imposed on them by the managers.' See also Castronovo, Giovanni
Agnelli, pp. 275-8 and 310.
4 See Gobetti, Scritti politici, p. 553.
5 Ibid., p. 553.
6 Ibid., pp. 552-4 and 556.
7 The subject is 'The Duce at Fiat's, 1932'. For the sake of comparison, I have in
Notes to pages 188-92 239
mind the film of the visit to the Milan factories in 1936. Naturally, it is impossible to
deduce differences in workers' behaviour on the basis of the films. However, the air
of defiance and tension that appears in the Turin documentary remains an
important piece of circumstantial evidence.
In relation to the difficulties of looking for such symptoms when examining
official Fascist documents, Sapelli notes of the 1932 visit that it is quite impossible
to be aware of workers' reactions from the daily papers of the period. However, he
accepts the version of the 'cold reception' at Lingotto, even though it was less
dramatic than that of 1923. See Sapelli, Fascismo, grande industria, p. 173; see also
Castronovo, Giovanni Agnelli, pp. 370 and 417.
8 See Croce, Scritti e discorsi politici, vol. 2, p. 361.
9 See the list of informers sent to Turin, some in the service of the Chief of Police,
others directly under the control of the Ovra ACS, Polizia Politica Materia,
b. 226, f. Viaggi del Duce. See also the account from Milan in the selfsame records.
The informers often complain that the excessive security makes the Duce inaccess-
ible, discouraging the populace from approaching him.
10 See ACS, Polizia Politica Materia, b. 226, f. Viaggi del Duce, Turin, 16 May 1939,
and, for what follows, the accounts dated 29 May 1939, 31 May 1939 and 21 May
11 See the leaflet distributed to the Fiat workers by the Fascist Confederation of
Industrial Workers, ACS, Divisione Polizia Politica, b. 217, f. Situazione operaia.
12 Ibid., comments on the measures for social welfare among the workers of Turin,
Pavia, Verona, Varese, Padua, Bologna, dated Milan, 9 May 1939.
13 Ibid., accounts dated 3 January 1939, 20 January 1939, 16 April 1939 and 9 May
1939. A report from Turin of 27 April comments: 'The bakers complain that flour is
in short supply and poor in quality. There is talk of requisitioning of maze in the
near future and of a likely increase in the percentage of this in the baking flour. All
this gives rise to endless remarks which are hardly fitting for the preparation of the
people to receive the Duce.' See ACS, Divisione Polizia Politica, b. 224, f.
Panificazione (bread supply).
14 See ACS, Divisione Polizia Politica, b. 217, f. Situazione operaia, accounts dated
Turin, 14 March 1939 and 20 March 1939.
15 See ACS, Divisione Polizia Politica, 1927-44, b. 178, f. Fiat, Account of 12 August
16 See ACS, Polizia Politica Materia, b. 7, f. Turin, report of 27 August 1936;
Divisione Polizia Politica 1927-44, b. 178, f. Fiat, report of June 1937; PNF,
Situazione Politica e Economica delle Province b. 25, f. Turin; the letter of Starace
is dated January 1938 and that of Gazzotti 11 January 1938; see in Divisione Polizia
Politica, b. 178, f. Fiat: the request for an inquiry 18 March 1938 on the part of the
Chief of Police following indications coming from the Air Ministry; the report of the
informer of 25 March 1938; the letter of the Chief of Police which communicates the
negative results of the inquiry dated 1 April 1938; the letter of the Inspector
General of Public Safety who confirmed these findings and notes the continuation
of the inquiries on 16 April 1938.
17 See ACS, MIDGPSDAGR, 1941, b. 57, f. Turin.
18 See De Felice, Mussolini il duce, pp. 163-5. Simona Colarizi interprets the accounts
of discontent contained in the reports of the spies of the Fascist police in the years
1936-40 as the sign of an 'opposition from below to Fascism, which, before being
expressed as outright antifascist struggle, meant, above all, the beginnings of a
rejection of the regime, or, better still, a gradual withdrawal from identification of
Italy with Fascism'; see S. Colarizi (ed.), Ultalia antifascista dal 1922al 1940. La lotta
deiprotagonisti (Rome and Bari, 1976), vol. 1, pp. 1112 and vol. 2, p. 4.
240 Notes to pages 192-6
19 Unanimously negative reactions were registered vis a vis the international situation
in a variety of cities and sectors of society in the years 1938-9. Aquarone, for
example, bases his reflections on the reports of PNF informers whose high degree of
reliability is inferred from the uniformity of reactions in different provinces and
from the 'attention and constancy with which the reports were followed at the
centre'. Furthermore, he underlines the fact that before September 1939 'the
short-lived myth of German military invincibility had not yet had occasion to fix
itself in people's minds'. A. Aquarone, 'Lo spirito pubblico in Italia alia vigilia
della seconda guerra mondiale', Nord e Sud, 11, 49 (110), 1964, pp. 117-25.
20 See ACS, Polizia Politica Materia, b. 226, f. Viaggi del Duce, Turin, report of
8 May 1939.
21 See G. Ciano, Diari 1939-43 (Milan, 1946), vol. 1, p. 99.
22 See La Stampa, 15 May 1939.
23 ACS, Polizia Politica Materia, b. 226, f. Viaggi del Duce, report of 14 April 1939.
24 For this description and the one that follows, see the Luce films: 'II Duce alia Fiat
nel maggio del 1939', 'II Duce a Mirafiori', Torino 19, 5, May 1939, pp. 22-3, and
the April edition under the title 'I nuovi impianti della Fiat', pp. 51 and 54; M.
Bernardi, 'Tecnici e operai', La Stampa, 16 May 1939, also in Ministero della
Cultura Popolare (ed.), // Duce in Piemonte (Rome, 1939).
25 See 'L'ora indimenticabile: il Duce ha inaugurato la Fiat Mirafiori', // Bianco e
Rosso, 7, 6, 31 May 1939; also // Maglio, 3, 20-1, 1939.
26 See B. Mussolini, Opera omnia (Florence, 1958), vol. 26, pp. 355-9. Mussolini's
Mirafiori speech, however, is only in the form of a resume; see vol. 29, pp. 277-8.
27 See Castronovo, Giovanni Agnelli, pp. 420ff.
28 See ACS, Polizia Politica Materia, b. 226, f. Viaggi del Duce, report from Turin
dated 15 May 1939.
29 See Gobetti, Scritti politici, p. 555.
30 On the 'rather reserved and scarcely enthusiastic behaviour of the mass of Fiat
workers', see the report of 29 May 1939; 'In fact there's something in Piedmont that
doesn't work', concludes an informer from Pinerolo, where 'the crowd acclaimed
him, waving sheets of paper which had been distributed in advance, and took care
to go through the motions of emitting the usual shouts normal at gatherings
designed to welcome the Duce'. So much so that 'the Duce was full of frowns, just
like yesterday morning at Fiat's'; the report of 16 May 1939 (ACS, Polizia Politica
Materia, b. 226, f. Viaggi del Duce). See also the report of 30 December 1936, ACS,
Polizia Politica Materia, b. f. Turin, and of 21 December 1936, PNF, Sit. Pol.
Prov., b. 25, f. Turin.
31 See M. W. Battacchi, Meridionali e settentrionali nella struttura del pregiudizio etnico in
Italia (Bologna, 1972), p. 104.
32 It is worth remembering that research on anti-Southerner prejudice in Turin has
shown that its expression changed in that period in relation to work and social
situation. That is, it continued to be a factor at the level of general, cosmological
explanation, while it made allowances for inconsistences over particular and
concrete circumstances and issues. See the research carried out by the Istituto
Superiore di Psicologia Sociale of Turin, which is reported in A. Fonzi, 'Sullo
stereotipo del meridionale italiano', Rivista di Psicologia Sociale, a. 3, f. 4, October-
December 1956.
33 Between 1951 and 1957 immigration in Turin (in ratio to every thousand
inhabitants) was more than three times as great as that of Rome, Genoa and Milan,
and reached a daily average of 109.8. In 1960 the average rose to 176.
In a survey of letters to the Turin daily paper, La Stampa (letters mostly written
by members of the middle classes, plus a few workers), we find typical features of
Notes to pages 197-8 241
the stereotype under headings such as 'Rome - the capital and the Roman
character', 'Crimes of honour', and 'Birth control'. Fofi notes that the conflation of
'Roman' with 'Southerner' probably contributed, apart, that is, from pre-fascist
caricature and Fascist fostering of popular prejudice, to the dialect-based cinema
of the 1948-55 period; G. Fofi, 'Meridionali e settentrionali attraverso lo "specchio
dei tempi", Nord e Sud, 8, 18 (79), 1961, pp. 81-105.
34 For a survey of these and other writings, including those of Carlo Levi and Cesare
Pavese, see G. Tesio, 'Excursus per un motivo: l'aria di Roma e gli scrittori
piemontesi da Alfieri a Soldati', Studi piemontesi, 10, 1, March 1981, pp. 50-63. In
addition, for a record of a puppet-show in which Gianduja was advised to go back
home 'because the air in Rome was bad for people from Piedmont', see S.
Segre-Amar, Sette storie del 'numero V (Turin, 1979), p. 9.
35 See ACS, Polizia Politica Materia, b. 226 f. Viaggi del Duce, report from Milan
dated 21 May 1939.
36 On the workings of the memory, see A. Portelli, 'L'uccisione di Luigi Trastulli.
Terni, 17 marzo 1949', Segno critico, 4, 1980.

abortion, 150; historical perspective on, capos quadra, 53

157-60; methods of, 161-7; legislation capo-casa, 43, 134, 142-3, 150
against, 174-6; diffusion of, 176-82 carnival, 21-2, 98; and subversion of order,
Abyssinian war, 72 94; decline and revival of, 118-19, 215 n.
Adorno, Theodor, 91, 99 35; see also body imagery; popular comic
African exhibits, 118 tradition
Agnelli family, 47; Senator Giovanni of, Casanova, 160
183-5, 188, 194-5 Catholicism, Roman, 41, 133, 144; bias of
Anarchists, 103, 125 interviews and, 15; and relations with
Anselmo, Renzo, 97 Socialists, 22; hagiography and activism in,
anthropological method, 2, 106, 125, 140-1, 34-6, 213 n. 21; parody of liturgy of, 76-7;
230 n. 15 and birth control, 150, 159, 169, 171-2
anti-clericalism, 99 Christian Democratic Party, 15, 36
anti-Semitism, 126 Ciano, Galeazzo, 192
Arditi, 80, 104 cinema, 137; and propaganda documentaries,
Arendt, Hannah, 144 9, 113-14, 188, 193-4, 219 n. 29; from
autobiography, 9, 60-3; and difference from America, 109, 116-17
oral forms, 18, 21, 27, 61, 67; and influence Clientelismo, 144
on oral forms, 3940 Coletto, Maria, 47, 49
colour symbolism and politics, 80, 101-6, 224
Bachtin, Michail, 19, 21, 61-2, 222 n. 66, 223 n. 100
n. 77 Commedia dell'Arte, 33
Badoglio, Pietro, 83 Communist Party, 15, 43, 104, 106, 144; and
Balilla, 140 split from the Socialist Party, 20, 40-1;
Bentham, Jeremy, 160 rejection of, 36-8; personal identification
Bernardi, Marziano, 193-4 with, 39-42, 48; and Fascist repression,
Bertagna, Maddalena, 19-23 116, 140, 142, 198-9; cultural limits of,
biennio rosso, 20 125
body imagery, 95-101 contraception, 155-6, 223 n. 16
Bongi, Olinto, 137-8, 183 Croce, Benedetto, 126-7, 188
bonifica, 96, 99-101, 131, 152
Bonivardi, Anna, 23 D'Annunzio, Gabriele, 75-6, 78, 98, 104, 218
Borgese, Giuseppe Antonio, 98, 112 n. 23
Bosio, Gianni, 106 Davis, Natalie Zemon, 27
Bottai, Giuseppe, 113-14 death symbolism in Fascism, 1045; and
Bricca, Benigno, 39-42, 109, 140, 142 martyrdom, 88
De Felice, Renzo, 6, 218 n. 23
Cafasso, Maria Conti, 24, 37-8, 107, 136, 183 De Martino, Ernesto, 40
Calamandrei, 98, 223 n. 83 Dilthey, W., 61-2
Candellero, Eugenia, 28, 34-7, 111, 143 Dogliero, Giovanni, 87-8, 139
Index 243
dopolavoro (Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro, Gritella, Atilio, 135, 138
OND),6, 115-22 Gunetti, Arturo, 81, 102, 104, 140, 142
Durkheim, Emile, 12
historiography of Fascism, 2-3, 67, 85-6, 124,
education, 14, 83, 140-1; as vocational 126,138-9, 180
training, 1345 Hitler, Adolf, 79
emigration, 12, 137, 152, 196 Horkheimer, Max, 132
England, 72, 87, 92, 159-60
Ethiopian War, 5, 85 Istituto Luce, 9
Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, 88-9, IvaJdi, Pinot, 43
jokes, 144; about Fascism, 85-93, 98; theories
family, 151-2; traditions of, 31; PNF help for, of, 221-2 nn. 59-62
142, 154; authoritarianism and, 229 n. 14;
see also abortion; contraception; social Karl Marx Club, 39-40
security provision
Fascist party (Partito Nazionale Fascista, Lancia, Vincenzo, 47
PNF), 67, 105, 139-40, 143, 150-1; language of Fascism, 74-5, 218 n. 19, 220 n.
corruption in, 93, 143-4; Federal secretary 44; resistance to, 24, 75-80, 95-6, 107;
of, 93, 121 Socialism as 'disease' in, 99-100; Mussolini
Fascist trade unions, 68, 141, 143 and, 113-14
Fascist violence, 68-9, 80; and use of castor law, 148; and public order, 71, 120, 158; see
oil, 96-100, 223 n. 83 also abortion; racial legislation
Favole, Bernadino, 32-4, 69, 90 Lejeune, P., 60
Febvre, Lucien, 3 Liberal democracy, 148; destruction of, 70-1,
feminism, 41, 156 152, 176, 181-2; and continuities with
Fiat, 25, 135-8, 143, 154; mass production at Fascism, 132, 228 n. 4
Lingotto factory of, 534, 58; and Turin, Lukacs, Georg, 62
183-5; and inauguration of Miriafiori Lusso, Albina Caviglione, 24, 29-31, 50
factory, 193-4; see also Agnelli family
First World War, 4, 82 Malinowski, Bronislaw, 2
folklore, 4, 8, 209 n. 6; as method of inquiry, Malthus, Thomas, 181-2
4, 227 n. 147; standardisation of, 115-22 Mann, Thomas, 92
France, 69, 72, 81, 152, 160, 163, 231 n. 2 Martino, 38-9, 107
Freud, Sigmund, 69, 86, 88 mass culture, 59, 74, 91-2, 116-22, 127; see
Futurists, 74 also cinema; radio
May Day, 20, 23, 78, 101-3, 143
Gagnon, Nicole, 10 Mazzinians, 103
Gallo, Maria, 90-1, 136, 138, 141, 156 mediators, 138-44
Garibaldi, Giuseppe, 103, 109, 137, 187, 225 militia (Milizia Voluntaria per la Sicurrezza
n. 107 Nazionale, MVSN), 72-3, 86-7, 144
Gasset, Ortega y, 92 monarchy, 84, 120, 132, 144, 185
Gentile, Felice, 53-4 Montaldi, Danilo, 34, 41, 106
Gentile, Giovanni, 98 Mussolini, Benito, 85, 87-8, 99, 112, 122,
Germani, Gino, 108 147, 150, 168-9, 197; parodies of, 76-9;
Germany, 131, 192; Nazism and Fascism scatological references to, 95; execution of,
compared, 144-5 101, 224 n. 90; tramp image of, 107-8;
giovane italiana, 129-30 nicknames for, 109-10; sympathy for, 111,
Gioventu Italiana del Littorio (GIL), 77 188, 198; popular theatre and, 113-14;
Gioventu Universitaria Fascista (GUF), 121 public order and, 130-2; virile self-image
Gobeti, Piero, 185-7, 195 of, 153; hostile reception by workers of Fiat
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, 62 of, 183-7, 189-90; on the 1938-9
Goldman, Lucien, 62 international situation, 1924; propaganda
graffiti, 78-9, 94-5 in favour of, 194; see also language of
Gramsci, Antonio, 4, 184, 214 n. 32 fascism
Gravelli, Asvero, 80
Griffanti, Carolina, 25-8, 49 Nano, Rita, 96-7
244 Index
Nazi-Fascists, 20 social mobility, 14, 133-6
Nazism: see Germany social security provision, 87, 130-2, 151, 190;
Nigra, Constantino, 30 see also Family
Noce, Teresa, 62 Songs of protest, 29-30, 80-5, 219 n. 40;
Nolte, E., 98 Fascist appropriations of, 80, 85
Southerners, 12; prejudices against, 45, 58,
Opera nazionale per la maternita e Vinjanzia 107, 151, 155, 196
(ONMI), 152-3, 173 Soviet Union, 92
oral history, 14, and use of questionnaires, Spanish Civil War, 73
10-11; and subjective experience, 51-2; sport, 56-7, 117
and gaps in memory, 67-8; corroboration squadrism, 48, 99, 105, 146; see also Fascist
of sources of, 107 violence
Ordine Nuovo, 5, 40 Stalin, Joseph, 92
Starace, Achille, 105, 143, 191
Pagliazzo, Paolo, 52 Starobinski, J., 60
Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI), 22 stereotypes, 18, 25, 31, 59, 145; as obstacle to
Piedmontese identity, 45, 47, 58, 118, 132, analysis, 8-9; regional, 45, 118, 195-6, 240
151, 195-6; dialect and, 79, 83-4, 88, 119 n. 33; national, 72-3; of Fascists, 90-1,
police records, 5; definitions of subversions 107-9; Fascist use of, 92
in, 69-70, 145; use ofconfino and, 71, 94,
147; informers and, 73-4, 93, 96-7, 100, Tannenbaum, E. R., 856
103, 143, 146, 174, 196; workers' Terracini, Umberto, 109
discontent and, 189-93, 229 n. 8 Togliati, Palmiro, 56
popular comic tradition, 32-3, 69, 93-6, 107; Thompson, Paul, 10
see also carnival totalitarianism and Italy, 1489
population policy, 151-7 Treves, Anna, 159
populist novel, 245 Turinese identity, 11, 45-7, 183, 195-7
Pratolini, Vasco, 24
premilitare, 130, 133, 139
uniforms, 91; rejection of, 90, 139; social
press censorship, 71-2, 110, 158, 193, 222 n. meanings of, 94, 118, 129-30, 139-40;
62, 238 n. 3; and Mussolini's Fiat visits, black colour of, 1045
185-6 United States of America, 159
Racial legislation, 100, 128, 152-3, 170, 175
radio, 5, 72, 210 n. 14 Vallini, Edio, 36
religions, 154; see also Catholicism Varusco, Luigia, 50, 101, 107, 139
Resistance, 14, 25-6, 50, 198 Vercellotti, Luigi, 42-4, 46, 109, 150-1
Risorgimento, 103 Villata, Lina, 29, 50, 124
Roman Catholicism: see Catholicism
Roman Empire cult, 75, 77, 94, 115, 117-18, war preparations, 193-4; anti-war feelings,
193 78, 147, 150, 189-92, 198
Weber, Max, 44, 48
Sargian, Angelo, 46-7, 146 Williams, Raymond, 3
Satta, Sebastiano, 85, 92 women, 1213; and conceptions of work,
Schneider, Jane, 105 49-51, 136-7; traditions of rebellion and,
Second World War, 26, 70, 78, 83, 123, 134, 21-2, 26-31, 34, 60, 221 n. 14; of the
137, 160 middle classes, 50-1, 172-3, 237 n. 42; as
self-representations, 18-19; as 'born mediators, 140-1; motherhood and, 152-5;
Socialist', 20-5; as 'fool', 32-3, 69; as see also abortion; contraception; feminism
committed to a cause, 3442; as worker, work, 12-14; identification with, 42-55, 215
4255; in relation to recreational activities, n. 42; craft ideal of, 44-5, 214 n. 32;
55-9; see also stereotypes, women; work de-skilling of, 54; ethic of, 132-3, 187-7; see
Silone, Ignazio, 77, 125 also self-representation; women
Socialist party, 15, 20, 22-4, 125; rejection of,
38-9; symbolism and, 105-6 youth, 57-8; see also Balilla; giovane italiana