In his ruthless demolition of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s new Churchill biography in last week’s Spectator, the historian Andrew Roberts pours scorn on the ‘insinuation that Churchill had fascist leanings in the 1920s’ as it is not supported by ‘any actual evidence (for there is none)’.
Well, however justified his hatchet job of Wheatcroft’s book is in general, Roberts is deeply mistaken about Churchill and fascism. Like so many in the 1920s and well into the 1930s, from all sides of the political divide, Churchill was a fervent admirer of the former revolutionary socialist Benito Mussolini and the fascist movement which he founded in 1919.
Fascism was a nationalist rather than internationalist revolutionary movement whose class war was not the Marxist one between rich and poor but a different one between producers and parasites — of whatever social class. Thus to someone like Churchill, revolutionary fascism was not only preferable to revolutionary socialism, or communism as it later was, but also vital to its defeat.
To support Italian fascism was remarkably fashionable unless you were an intellectual. A clear sign of the huge global popularity of Mussolini and fascism was Cole Porter’s 1934 hit song You’re the top! from the musical Anything Goes which in one version included the lines ‘You’re the top! You’re the great Houdini! You’re the top! You’re Mussolini!’.
As late as 1933, the year in which Hitler’s Italian-inspired Nazis came to power, Churchill described Mussolini in a speech that February at the Queen’s Hall in London as ‘the Roman genius’ and ‘the greatest law-giver among living men’. He added: ‘With the fascist regime, Mussolini has established a centre of orientation from which countries which are engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle with socialism must not hesitate to be guided.’