The Italian Resistance

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Tom Behan, Pluto Press; £18.99

One of the enduring myths of the Second World War is that only the Allies liberated occupied Europe. Tom Behan demolishes this notion in this fascinating new book, subtitled "Fascists, Guerrillas and the Allies". In doing so, he paints a picture of a powerful resistance movement, one which heroically played its part in breaking the back of Benito Mussolini's fascist state and forcing off Adolf Hitler's Nazi divisions.

The book can be broken down into two main parts. The first takes you through a chronological history of the period between Mussolini's rise to power in 1922 and the liberation of the country in 1945. He expertly explains how as the old regime collapsed, many people came to the conclusion that they had to resist the Nazi invasion and fascist repression. In November 1943 the Communist Party's theoretical journal, La Nostra Lotta, spelt out the political reasons why it was necessary to take such action:

"We cannot and must not await our freedom from the Allies. The Italian people will be able to have the government that will really act in their interests - and not one linked to reactionary imperialist cliques - only if they will have fought to conquer their own independence and freedom, only if they will have shown that they have the strength to impose their own government."

And fight the Italian resistance movement did. According to the Allied commander in chief partisan activities in the north pinned down six out of the 25 German divisions based in northern Italy. The partisans liberated Naples, Florence and Milan. In some form or another up to 700,000 Italians were involved in the resistance.

The resistance trod a thin line between fighting fascism and maintaining an uneasy working relationship with the Allies.

The second part looks in greater detail at the political forces that shaped that movement. Behan's admiration for the resistance movement shines through on every page. But that doesn't stop him from taking a critical examination of the role of the Italian Communist Party, its obedient following of every twist and turn of Moscow foreign policy and its failure to look beyond parliamentary democracy.

For me one of the most fascinating chapters of the book is one about the role of women in the resistance movement. Behan argues that for the first time in Italian history women came out of their homes in large numbers and got involved in politics. It is an amazing story of courage and ingenuity - a hidden history brought to life for a British audience for the first time.

Behan has uncovered accounts and stories that will etch into your memory. This is a book that will move and inspire you.