After Mussolini Who?
Says this writer: "II Duce is tottering. Italy is ripe for revolt, awaits only a leader — and an allied invasion"
GEORGE W. HERALD
This article was written befare Mussolini’s recent spectacular purge of his cabinet, and suggests why there occurred a shakeup so drastic that Count Ciano ceased to be foreign minister and became Ambassador to the Vatican; that Prince Umberto, according tosome reports,was away to the Russian front; and that “resignations” were received from a total of nine cabinet ministers and seven undersecretaries.
As nearly as it is possible to judge, this is the “story behind the story” of the Italian cabinet purge. The author has based the article on reliable information coming to him from Switzerland.
SOME WEEKS ago Crown Prince Umberto interviewed the members of a British bomber crew who had been shot down and taken prisoner after a raid over Turin. The fliers told him how sorry they felt that they had to destroy the prince’s favorite town. “We have nothing against you,” they declared. “All we want is to free your people from the Nazis.” Whereupon Umberto gave the significant answer:
“The sole result of your attacks so far is that they draw only more and more Germans into our country.”
The royal heir seemed to be little pleased with these developments. But is he going to do something about it? Or are other Italians likely to intervene? What have the Army leaders decided to do? Which prominent Fascists are working against Mussolini today? Who are the men who would collaborate with the Allies? What persons intend to run the country after the Duce’s downfall?
These questions are of the utmost importance not only for Italy but for everyone. The Italians will probably be the first European nation to be saved from barbarism. The oppressed countries, therefore, will closely watch every step of the operation. In particular they will be eager to see whom the Allies will entrust with the administration of the peninsula. In their eyes Italy will serve as a model for the kind of order our side desires to establish everywhere. Thus, the Allies will have a great
responsibility. On the friends they choose among the Italians may well depend the winning of the peace!
There are many indications that King Victor Emmanuel will abdicate in favor of his son, when the crisis comes. The old monarch feels that he has been too closely connected with Mussolini’s imperial dreams to survive as monarch after their frustration To be sure, Crown Prince Umberto has never been a declared foe of the Fascist regime either. Despite rumors to the contrary, he has always lived on correct terms with the Duce. The truth is that he is not very bright and does not care much about politics. Tall, dark and handsome, he looks a little like Frederic March and is mainly interested in women. Even in wartime, his amorous adventures have not ceased to be the gossip of tin* nation. And yet his wife, Princess M arie José, has been able to influence him in one point at least. She was brought up, during World War 1, in the home of Lord Curzon. Her brother, King Leopold of Belgium, lias been Hitler’s prisoner for more than two years now. Thus, by training and experience, she has no special sympathy for the Germans and she has taught her husband t o despise t hem !
When Hitler visited Home before the war Umberto’s apartment in the Quirinal Palace was considered the only one good enough for the illustrious guest. The Prince had to move out days in advance* to permit I lerr von 1 )oernberg, t he Reich chief of protocol, to decorate the suite* according to the Fuehrer’s taste*. Among other things, that German official had the* impudence* te> ask that the bedspread be changeel and another made of special brocade with an enormous German eagle embroidered on it. The new bedspread cost nearly 16,000 lire and had to be paie! by the Crown Prince as it pertained to his apartments. He had enough discipline to keep quiet but, after Hitler had left, the first thing Umberto did was to order the bedspread to be burned !
DURING RECENT months the Frince has begun to manifest his feelings quite openly. After the third British mass raid on Turin he rushed to Rome to tell the Government that the people in his area would not stand it much longer. He seriously discussed the possibility of making peace overtures through Spain and he even suggested that Don Alessandro Torlonia who was raised in
the U.S. by an American mother, be dispatched as envoy extraordinary. Mussolini shunned Umberto, pleading illness, but the move of the royal heir became an open secret in the capital. The result is that he is much more popular today than his aged and sickly father.
The appeasement tendencies are strongest among the Northern industrial leaders. Alberto Pirelli, the rubber magnate, who once was president of the International Chamber of Commerce, believes that his connections abroad would be helpful in negotiating a separate peace. So does Giovanni Caproni, the famous plane builder and owner of the Isotta Fraschini works in Milan. He thinks he would be persona grata in the London City owing to the fact that his firm did business with the British Government right until the eve of the war. His agent Gianferrari, a kind of Italian pocket Zaharoff, stayed in London as late as May 1940, and only departed with the diplomats. Ettore Morel 1 i, the magneto-king, Vittorelli, the explosive manufacturer, and Silvio Crespi, the textile millionnaire and auto trade constructor, are some others who have as yet opposed all German attempts to gain control of t heir enterprises. Alberto Stefani, former Minister of Finance and a member of important directors’ boards, lately declared in public that “it would be treason to Italy’s interests, if we sold out to the Germans.” And when Nazi engineers began to infiltrate “peacefully” into Turin and Milan plants, they were received by tumultuous anti-German demonstrations!
These incidents led to an open conflict between Piero Gazzotti, the Federal Secretary for Turin, and Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of what is left of the Fiat factories. Gazzotti accused Agnelli of having been the instigator of the anti-Nazi riots. Agnelli countered with embarrassing questions concerning the origin of Gazzotti’s private fortune. As a matter of fact, Gazzotti, a Neapolitan, was a poor man when he came to Turin but, two years later, he had declared to the Income Tax an estate of 28,000,000 lire. He then took cover behind the Duce who had received a formal protest against the Turin manifestations from Herr Hans von Mackensen, the Reich ambassador in Rome. The Fiat works were finally forced to admit German administrators whose official task it is to organize a better protection against British raids!
All this has only aggravated the tension between the industrial North and the bureaucratic South in Italy. It is a fact that Fascism has turned more and
more into an exclusively Southern affair. The bulk of the Fascist civil service, police and militiamen have been recruited from the South, and even most of the Northern provinces are now being run by Southerners who enrich themselves through graft and blackmail. The case of Piero Gazzotti is typical in this respect. The process is called “meridionallizzare” (southernizing) and has created so much discontent in Northern Italy that it forms one of the major reasons why an Allied landing near Genoa will be easier than on the shores of Naples.
Is there any chance that such a landing will be preceded by a pronunciamiento in the Italian Army? Recent rumors wanted it that Marshal Pietro Badoglio had planned such a revolt and had been arrested. The truth is that the seventy-threeyear-old warrior has never recovered his full freedom after having been taken into custody, on December 10,1940, for having publicly condemned the campaign against Greece in the Circle Caccia, the most exclusive club in Rome. Since that time he has always been living on his estate at Monferrato, Piedmont, spending most of his time bowling and playing poker under the strict supervision of a detachment of Blackshirts. In recent months the King has summoned him three or four times for private consultation. The Marshal has always returned directly from Rome to Monferrato.
NEVERTHELESS Badoglio, who is a passionate Francophile and is married to a Jewish woman, is still considered by a large group of Army men as their spiritual leader. The group consists of twenty commanding officers who have behind them about forty-five per cent of the troops stationed in Italy. The most prominent members of this set are the Dukes of Bergamo and Pistoia, each of whom commands an Army corps in Northern Italy, as well as the Army chiefs Grabba, Grossi and Marinetti. They have silently opposed the Duce ever since he put his militia on the same level as the regular Army—a conflict quite similar to that between the Wehrmacht and the Elite Guard. But for the moment they are primarily concerned with the German danger. They do not consider the German troops streaming into Italy as helpful friends but as outright invaders. And the question for them no longer is: “Should we throw the Nazis out or not?” but: “How can we do it?”
Late in 1912 this camarilla held a series of secret conferences on the royal domain of San Rossore, out of the reach of Mussolini’s Ovra. Some of the meetings took place in the presence of Crown Prince Umberto, Prince Torlonia, Prince Filippo Doria (who is married to a Scotswoman), Admiral Gavagnari and ex-Governor de Vecchi. Unfortunately, they all were forced to recognize that their troops would be unable to drive out the 300,000 Germans already occupying the peninsula. The only thing that could be tried would be the closing of the Alpine passes so that the Nazis would get trapped and threatened with wholesale extermination. The Brenner fortifications were greatly improved last year for exactly this purpose but there remains the problem of the Luftwaffe. As long as Rome is in the range of five hundred German bombers stationed on Sicily, any attempt at revolt would be folly. That is why the generals have decided to postpone all such undertakings until they can count on the immediate and effective support of the Allies.
When this moment arrives three men will take the risk to act as Italian Darlans. These men are the Three Musketeers of Fascism—Grandi, Volpi and Ciano. Dino Grandi, who made many personal friends when he was ambassador in London, has not delivered a single speech since his return to Italy. His anti-German attitude was obvious early when, as a member of the Non-Intervention Committee for Spain, he nicknamed his colleague, Joachim von Ribbentrop, “the bloody dandy” and “the lying machine.” He has a large following in the Roman aristocracy and in diplomatic circles. But even greater influence is wielded by Count
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Guiseppe Volpi de Misurati whose hydro-electric power works supply the northern industrial districts with current. This extremely wealthy man has little liking for Nazi theories. When his friend Edgaro Morpurgo, the president of the Triest Assecurazioni Generali, Italy’s largest insurance trust, was ousted from his job because of his Jewish ancestors, Volpi did not rest until Morpurgo had received an indemnity of several million lire. As organizer of the Venetian Film Biennale, the Count had many opportunities to meet Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Last year, at a banquet in Volpi’s palazzo on the Canale Grande, Goebbels seemed to be shocked by the fact that his host employed a large staff of negro servants.
“I couldn’t bear to have these savages around me all the time,” Goebbels remarked.
“Why, doctor?” Volpi asked in a mild voice. “Would you be afraid of the competition?”
Most significant, however, is the recent transformation of Count Galeazzo Ciano. The Duce’s son-in law
seems to have lost all illusions about the future of his country. At any rate he conducts himself in the strangest manner. He no longer treats Hitler’s delegates in Rome with respect hut tries to poke fun at them on every occasion. Not long ago, for instance, when he had a discussion with an old German friend, a famous party figure, he suddenly remarked: “You’d better be nice with me, old man! Or who do you expect will pay your rent in exile?” The Nazis, of course, do not appreciate such queer utterances, not even as a joke, and Mussolini repeatedly has been obliged to order his daughter’s husband to behave. But it is a fact that Ciano has placed enough money in Argentine hanks to lead the existence of a refugee de luxe for the rest of his life, if it must be, and that he keeps a special aircraft standing ready day and night on his estate to take him and his family to Spain. He would prefer, though, to remain in Italy as the major part of his billion-lire fortune is still invested in Tuscany farmland, Leghorn newspapers and Milan factories. To save this fortune
he would gladly sacrifice Fascism—if the Allies let him and the Nazis didn’t shoot him first!
LESS PROMINENT but hardly less important is another group of potential leaders—to wit, the chiefs of the Italian underground. Most of them belong to the Matteotti movement, called after the popular hero killed by Mussolini’s agents. This movement has 300,000 members coming from every level of society. Among its sponsors are aristocrats and simple factory workers. Many of its best fighters have been recruited from the universities. The group has its spies sitting in the Questura, in the Ministries, in all Fascist associations. These spies usually know all secrets of state even before the King gets wind of them. They have penetrated so completely into at least two central party organizations that the offices of these organizations serve in reality as offices for the underground !
The Matteotti movement has its regional headquarters in Rome,Milan, and Naples. In Rome a committee of six outlines the general policy and strategy. Its orders are executed by the action committee, while a third committee takes care of the propaganda. Its newspaper, “Italia Libera,” appears three times weekly, despite the fact that it is always printed in a different city. Three shortwave transmitters maintain communications among the headquarters but the Matteottists have no connection with anti-Fascists abroad. They are filled with distrust toward the émigrés in foreign capitals who live in comfort while the battle is on and, if they have their say, none of these exiles will have a voice in the government of Free Italy. Nor will they have anything to do with the Communist groups. These groups, which are very small, repeatedly have tried to form a united front with the Matteotti men but they have always failed because the latter are too conservative. They merely want to freeze all Fascist property during the transition from tyranny to democracy and then create a regime largely inspired by the Swedish model.
Thus, after twenty years of dic-1 tatorship there exists still a strongly organized movement for freedom and ^ social progress in Italy. On the other I hand, the traditional forces of Dynasty, Church and Army are still ; intact. Both groups will oppose each other after the collapse of Fascism, and it will be no easy task for the Allies to deal with all these princes and paupers, warriors and workers, magnates and ministers. There is one Italian, however, who can greatly help them to pick the right partners. This man is Benedetto Croce, the famous historian and philosopher. He is an old man who has no longer any personal ambit ions yet he knows what is good for his compatriots. His: latest work, “History as the Story of : Liberty,” was secretly shipped to England in the middle of the war and ¡ was published there last year. He' once was Minister of Education, I under Giolitti, but when he refused ¡ to take the political oath on the' Fascist regime he was excluded from ! the Academy. Since then he has I been living in seclusion in Naples. When King Victor Emmanuel inspected the ruined sections of that city some weeks ago he had his car stopped before Croce’s marble villa | in the via Trinita Maggiore. He wanted to have a talk with the old master and sent his adjutant to announce him. But the butler who opened the door, declared:
“Professor Croce does not receive any visitors.”
“Well, this is different,” the adjutant replied. “Please will you tell the professor that His Majesty the King desires to see him.”
After three minutes the butler returned and said in the same imperturbable voice:
“The professor regrets but he does not receive any visitors.”
The monarch called his adjutant back and proceeded without further word. Maybe he felt that he deserved the humiliation. As to the great Croce, the first visitors he plans ever to receive again will be the men from the West who will come and free1 his people. They should go and see1 him, for—aside from the Pope—he will be the only one whose voice will command universal respect in the Italy of tomorrow!