The Context

1943-45: Civil war in Italy

The use of the term ‘civil war’ to describe the conflict between fascists and anti-fascist partisans has been controversial in post-war Italy. The term only tended to be used by right-wing historians and by supporters of the neo-fascist movement. On the left it was seen as part of the war of liberation against the occupying forces and their Italian collaborators. However, in 1989 a book was published entitled “A civil war. Essay on the morality in the Resistance, which was written by Claudio Pavone, a left-wing historian who had also been a partisan during the war.  Drawing on a wealth of oral evidence he argued that at this time there were three inter-related wars taking place: a liberation war, a civil war amongst Italians and a class war between the rich and the poor.


During this period most of the partisans were fighting against both German forces and Italian Fascists. In the mountain areas they often hid in the houses of the farmers who were obliged to support them regardless of whether or not they shared the same political allegiances. Some Italian historians have argued that the armed conflict at this time was not only a liberation war against the Nazi occupation but also a civil war between Italian fascists and anti-fascists. The majority of the Italian civilian population had gone through the period 1939-43 without taking a definite position against or in favour of fascism. Now they were endeavouring to survive a civil war between two minority factions.