Vittorio Cini Twenty Years After His Death

Written by  Sergio Romano
An influential figure in the politics and economics of the most difficult decades of this century.
The encounter between Cini and Volpi took place in the field of public services: infrastructures, energy, transport. Both men's careers had begun in the early years of the century and both enjoyed their first successes when Italy was going through a phase of economic development just before the Great War.

This had a decisive influence on the way they worked and on their relationship with the public authorities. In another country, perhaps, they could have maintained more detached and neutral relations with politics. But in a country with a flourishing bureaucracy, scant capital and beset by violent socio-political clashes, they were obliged to get involved with politics right from the outset.

The problems began after the war, when the proportional electoral law led to the election of socialists and populist members of parliament who had no desire to co-operate in the reconstruction effort.

Just when Italy might have reaped the rewards of victory and retaken the road to economic expansion, Cini, Volpi and the entrepreneurial class found themselves at grips with a chaotic situation made even more problematic by constant upsurges of pseudo-revolutionary activity. In the Fascist movement they saw two positive aspects: a national reaction to the way in which the Left had discredited the victory and its protagonists; and the chance of a "return TO order". Like Giolitti, Cini and Volpi had to hope that the alliance with Mussolini would have turned the fascists into a moderate force, capable of keeping the maximalist and bolshevik Left at bay.
When circumstances decreed the failure of Giolitti's strategy, the two were "Giolittian" in the only way possible for businessmen in the Italy of the Twenties: from within the regime. Their objective was still to oblige Fascism to divest itself of its revolutionary component and to accept the laws of economic development.

Cini and Volpi had common interests, they were bound by a strong friendship and their attitude to the regime was the same. But the style was different. They were both intelligent, ironic and shrewd; but Volpi enjoyed the theatrical aspects of public life much more than Cini and was therefore more inclined to accept political posts. For his part, Cini preferred to devote himself to the management of the group's interests.
This was probably the reason why, in April 1935, Cini took the floor in the Senate to defend the private sector.

In his view it was high time the government did away with the lame ducks and privatized healthy companies. He said: «I am convinced that there are bodies, groups, and some very sound people who are prepared to put any direct personal interests to one side and co-operate in the bid to assist the return to the private sector of those companies that weigh on the arm of the State. And the State, once it has a completely free hand, will be better able to carry out its function as supreme regulator of the economy, thereby resolving the current conflict in which it is often seen to be both judge and interested party in the measures it is called upon to take».
In those months, did the conditions exist whereby the Fascist economy could have taken a liberal turn? If they did exist, they were overwhelmed a few months later by the war in Ethiopia, by the sanctions and the worsening of the international situation. This was probably the reason why, in 1936, rather than plan the liquidation of the Iri (Institute for industrial reconstruction), Mussolini was actually thinking of offering Cini the Chairmanship of it.
A few months afterwards, however, Cini accepted the post as commissioner general of the Universal Exposition planned for Rome in 1942.

In the June of 1939 Cini went to the United States on what was both a fact finding and a political mission in the course of which, on Mussolini's behalf, he met with Roosevelt and various American politicians to sound out America's position in the event of a war.

We do not know what impressions he may have had of these meetings nor what advice he gave Mussolini on his return, but we can imagine his state of mind when Italy entered the war one year later. He was certainly among those who right from the start were most worried about the outcome of the conflict and about Italy's fate. This was probably why Mussolini tried to involve him in the organization of the war effort: to neutralize his opposition and to make use of his experience.
In February 1943 Mussolini made him Minister of Communications. In an attempt to avoid this appointment, Cini sent him two letters, dated the 6th and 7th of February, pleading health reasons and underlining the incompatibility of the post with some of his holdings in companies active in the communications field.

On the 24th of June Cini sent in his resignation with a letter in which he said: «my proposal [to look into the idea of making peace with the Allies] was not intended to table a discussion on peace: it was intended to discover if you will admit or not your collaborators to that examination of general policy which I hold an indispensable premiss for all conscious responsibility». He resigned because Mussolini intended to restrict the collaboration of his ministers to «the technical level only».

Cini was anything but the faceless bureaucrat, petty provincial tyrant, and cowardly executor of the head of government's directives that Togliatti said he was. What Soviet minister would have dared to write Stalin a letter like the one Cini sent to Mussolini in the June of 1943.