No. 58 NAI DFA 219/6

Confidential report from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Rome, 25 October 1939

Due to the Soviet penetration in Western and South Western Europe Italy has been presented with a series of problems not all of which are political. Some to which she attaches much importance are of a moral, social, religious and historical order. Since its inception in 1922 Fascism has never ceased to defend and glorify Roman tradition which is Western and Christian against Bolshevism which is Asiatic and Pagan.

The Duce has appeared, at all times, as the defender and perpetuator of the glories of ancient Rome with its constitution and laws and, likewise, as the champion of the greatness of Christian Rome with its great moral heritage. It cannot be gainsaid that he has restored religion to the schools and rendered to the Catholic Church much of the influence that it enjoys in Italy today. On the other hand Italian Catholics are amongst the most loyal supporters of the regime. It is only natural, therefore, that the Italian conception of the State should revolt against all the ideologies and cultures that are opposed to Roman tradition.

In the presence, therefore, of the new fact of the collusion of Nazi Germany which is largely inspired by anti Christian ideas and Soviet Russia, which would replace the civilisation of Rome by that of Moscow, Italy finds herself at the crossroads. She must either range herself on the side of doctrines which are contrary to Roman tradition in which she will have to renounce an important part of her spiritual and her moral heritage, or by refusing to follow the new doctrines as exemplified by the Rome-Berlin axis, she may be able to conserve integrally her glorious traditions.

In view of the foregoing it may be asked which road is Italy going to follow? So far she has made no concession to Bolshevik ideology. The 'Regime Fascista', a newspaper directed by Farinacci,1 an extremist member of the Fascist Grand Council, affirms that Italians have always been and will always remain anti Communist. The 'Corriere Padano', which is owned by Air Marshal Balbo,2 a moderate member of the Fascist Grand Council, has taken a more aggressive stand towards Moscow. Writing of the Soviet Commissar for Defence it says: 'Voroshiloff, and his companions, like all carrion in Bolshevik Russia, do not interest us in the slightest. We were born anti Communist and wish to remain so. We refuse a grain of esteem, or an ounce of sympathy to the Bolsheviks who are the models of gross bestiality, living monsters who are serving the most infamous undertaking of human deceit, cruelty and degradation which has ever been recorded by natural history.'

It is true that four issues of the 'Padano' containing similar attacks on Bolshevism, and what it stands for, were seized by the police, nevertheless we have here two expressions of opinion from which one may reasonably conclude that Fascist Italy is not likely to take a stand that would coincide with the policy of Hitler since he took Stalin to his bosom.

There was a further indication of this attitude in the manifestation which took place at Madrid a week or ten days ago on the occasion of the presentation of the credentials of the Italian Ambassador to General Franco. In the speeches exchanged it was made clear that neither Italy nor Spain were likely to follow the example of Germany in renouncing the anti Comintern pact, the poles of which would seem today to be fixed at Rome and Madrid. In his reference to Italo-Spanish solidarity Franco's plea in 'defense of Catholic and Western civilisation' appears to be significant.

Nevertheless, in this critical hour in the history of Europe, Italy remains, officially at least, the ally of Germany, and while England and France are extremely affable and courteous and make every endeavour to gain the good will of the Duce, the bitterness created by the Sanctions has not yet faded from his memory. He watches every move on the military and diplomatic chessboard, always silent and inscrutable. He would like to play a role, but time is on his side. As a neutral, Italy is rapidly restoring her economic fences. Everybody profits thereby. By peaceful methods she may achieve what is now an aspiration, by participation in the war on either side, she may lose the gains of the last eighteen years.

The Anglo-Franco-Turkish Agreement which received strong Italian opposition last May when discussions were taking place on the return of the Sandjak of Alexandretta to Turkey came as no surprise to Italy. It has been mildly criticised by Gayda, more for forms sake than anything else, as it preserves Italian influence in the Balkan instead of opening the South East of Europe to Soviet penetration which would, otherwise, have been the case. It is, however, slightly to Italy's disadvantage in so far as her prestige in the Mediterranean is concerned, as it reinforces the allied position. The French are now showing more confidence in the continuation of Italian neutrality and are withdrawing troops from the frontier and discontinuing the 'black-out' in the border region.

[signed] M. MacWhite

1 Roberto Farinacci (1892-1945), Secretary General of the Italian Fascist Party (1925-6) and senior advisor to Mussolini.

2 Italo Balbo (1896-1940), Minister for Aviation (1929-33), Governor of Libya (1934-40).

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