In this paper, we argue that there was a strong link between the surge of support for the Socialist Party after World War I (WWI) and the subsequent emergence of Fascism in Italy. We first develop a source of variation in Socialist support across Italian municipalities in the 1919 election based on war casualties from the area. We show that these casualties are unrelated to a battery of political, economic and social variables before the war and had a major impact on Socialist support (partly because the Socialists were the main anti-war political movement). Our main result is that this boost to Socialist support (that is “exogenous” to the prior political leaning of the municipality) led to greater local Fascist activity as measured by local party branches and Fascist political violence (squadrismo), and to significantly larger vote share of the Fascist Party in the 1924 election. We document that the increase in the vote share of the Fascist Party was not at the expense of the Socialist Party and instead came from right-wing parties, thus supporting our interpretation that center-right and right-wing voters coalesced around the Fascist Party because of the “red scare”.
That is from a new paper by Daron Acemoglu, Giuseppe De Feo, Giacomo De Luca, and Gianluca Russo.