Mussolini positioned his regime as far more amenable than republican France to America’s new hegemony…
One of the obstacles to acknowledging the amicable relationship between Wall Street and Italian fascism was the commonplace view of the interwar period as an era of economic nationalism. Mussolini was famous for his advocacy of autarchy and for triumphs such as draining the Pontine marshes and the “battle for grain” in agriculture. Italy, for its part, was severely affected by America’s nativist immigration quotas imposed early in the 1920s.
But policies of national economic development were far from being incompatible with fostering international commercial and financial interconnections. One should take the “national” in “international” seriously. Italy’s business elites never envisioned their country’s economic development as severed from the world economy. The immediate effect of World War I was not so much to unleash deglobalization as to bring about a rearrangement of international economic interactions. Whereas before 1914, visionary industrialists like Giuseppe Volpi looked to Germany to assist in the development of modern industries in Italy, such as hydropower, from 1917 onward, Italy’s economy came to rely on loans from Britain and the US, which by 1919 amounted to $2 billion and $1.65 billion respectively. After the Paris Peace Conference, despite the showdown there with Woodrow Wilson over Italy’s claim to Fiume, Italian liberals continued to look to Wall Street.
Tragically, in the wake of Wilson’s failure to persuade the Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, America’s mind was elsewhere. Insofar as the Senate and the State Department were interested in European stabilization at all, it was the fate of Germany that concerned them. It was the disastrous Franco-German conflict in the Ruhr that caused the US to reengage with European affairs in the autumn of 1923. By then, for Italy’s first generation of Atlanticist liberals, it was too late. Mussolini had seized power in October 1922.
Migone shows how, with Germany as Washington’s priority, Mussolini positioned his regime as far more amenable than republican France to America’s new hegemony. Though Mussolini boasted of his war record, he did not pursue an aggressive policy toward Germany. He made it clear early on that he understood the power of the US.