My great uncle Giuseppe used to like to tell stories about life during the Second World War: brushes with death, visits he and his friend made to prostitutes in the Veneto, the way the Germans looked when they marched, and the measures people in the small towns of the Italian Campania took to cope during and after the war. When the Germans came through, people met the convoys in the streets and leaned out the windows, cheering and waving. Then when the Americans arrived a short while later, people met the convoys in the streets and leaned out the windows, cheering and waving American flags. The story was told to give the impression that Giuseppe and his townsmen were cunning, clever, furbi, that they knew how to survive and outsmart both their captors and putative liberators and that, in their hearts, they were having none of what either power had to offer. Maybe they saw both sides as occupiers, neither as legitimate.
I was reminded of these stories and the way Giuseppe used to tell them just the other day, when I came across this passage (from a 2005 interview with Noam Chomsky):
It’s worth remembering; when the US, Britain and Russia occupied Europe, the main thing they wanted to do was to destroy the resistance. So, one of their first tasks was to destroy the antifascist resistance. That’s the first chapter of the post-war period. Actually in the case of US and Britain, it started in 1943: when they moved into Italy from the south, the first thing they did was restore the old fascist order, and crush the partisans and the fascist resistance, which was a very strong thing. In Italy, the partisans had pretty much driven the Germans out of Northern Italy. When the American and British forces came in, they had to liberate Italy from its own people, from the partisans. And the partisans had what they called ‘communist’… But they weren’t particularly that, they were radical democratic; they had worker-controlled industry and radical democratic programs, which the US and Britain wouldn’t tolerate. So they destroyed them, and restored something like the traditional fascist order. And they did the same in Germany and in France.
What happened after the war was that something like the traditional order was restored: traditional conservative business-run order with some variation, and the resistance was eliminated. In history, the resistance was eliminated. Very few people know the history of the partisans. The new right that’s coming now is an extreme version of the real fascists coming back but the actual history of the liberation of Europe by its own people was mostly suppressed.