War should have been the apotheosis of Fascism. In fact it was its nemesis. Fascism failed the test that it had set for itself, indeed the only standard by which it wanted to be measured, as a mass-mobilising dictatorship preparing the nation for victorious war and conquest. War was what Fascism was about, whatever the opportunism of Mussolini’s June 1940 decision to exploit the apparently overwhelming Nazi military gains in Northern and Western Europe. The gamble for Mussolini and the regime was huge, if calculated. The only justification for war was to win it, and rapidly. The losing of a prolonged war exposed the regime’s growing unpopularity, already passively evident before 1940 as a result of that combination of accelerated ‘fascistisation’ and the Nazi German alliance. The wartime experience revealed the inevitable superficiality of Fascist attempts at totalitarian mobilisation and the fatal flaws in the institutional structures of the Fascist state, and completed the dissolution of the broad conservative coalition of interests that had sustained Fascism since the 1920s.
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