Violence and terror: Imaginaries and practices of squadrismo in the Province of Ferrara, 1914-1922

Alessandro Saluppo, Fordham University


Over the last two decades, interpretations of squadrismo as a mere upsurge of reactionary violence directed at the socialist and catholic movements have been challenged, revised or rejected. The experience of squadrismo, scholars have shown, contributed to define the totalitarian nature of Fascism, created its “political style” and handed down its revolutionary mythology and iconography. Yet, research on squadristi violence has continued to receive scant attention or has been downplayed as contingent upon the quasi-religious aspects of Fascism. This study reconsiders the phenomenon of fascist paramilitary violence by examining the violent imaginaries and practices of squadrismo in the province of Ferrara. Drawing on the phenomenological program of social science violence research, on studies in the anthropology of violence and the most recent praxeological approaches to Fascism, the study focuses on the forms, content and dimensions of squadristi violence, its encoding in rituals of destruction and death as well as its disintegrative effects on communities. Based on the examination of newly accessible archival materials, the study aims to shed light upon the ways in which squadristi imagined, performed, justified and ascribed meanings to their violent actions and how spectacles of violence, terror and suffering became the foundation on which fascist identity and power were grounded. As a result, the study details the dynamics, morphologies and meanings of fascist violence and how it dissolved material and experiential contexts, disrupted people’s sense of reality, and imposed over the province the language of social consensus through fear and horror. A particular focus is placed upon squadristi’ practices of cruelty on victim’s bodies and their turning into ideological artifacts. To understand the character and functioning of squadristi violence, the study also reconstructs the distinct organizational characteristics and socialization processes in the squads, which modified the attitudes and beliefs of the squadristi to the point where murders, beatings, tortures, mutilations and outrages upon personal dignity turned into routinized and ritualized practices. The study concludes with a reflection on squads’ violence in the aftermath of the march on Rome and the persistence of the ideological and cultural fabric of squadrismo in the years of the dictatorship.

Subject Area

European history

Recommended Citation

Saluppo, Alessandro, "Violence and terror: Imaginaries and practices of squadrismo in the Province of Ferrara, 1914-1922" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10013409.