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New International, August 1934

 

I.C.H.

The Crisis in Fascism

2. How It Happened in Italy

From New International, Vol.1 No.2, August 1934, pp.48-49.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

THE longer German Fascism prevails, the more it reveals at every important stage of its development an essential resemblance to its Italian precursor. The analogy is so striking in all important aspects that it is now possible to record a set of evolutionary laws ruling the life’s span of Fascism. If in external manifestations the German development takes on more convulsive and sensational forms, and are more concentrated in point of time, this general accentuation does not invalidate the comparison with Italy. It only indicates that the unfolding of the Nazi movement is taking place in a country where class formations and antagonisms are sharper and more clearcut, where the social and economic structure is far more developed, and where the foreign political situation is vastly more complicated and critical.

Fascism differs from every other form of capitalist dictatorship in that it commences as a vast popular movement of a middle class turned desperately reactionary. Its essential nature as an instrument of finance capital brings it inexorably to the point where this broad social foundation, having served its purpose in eliminating the working class as an organized political factor, is itself likewise eliminated.

The recent events in Germany make this ineluctable trend dramatically apparent. Were moral depravity and military ambition the only sins of Captain Roehm, neither he nor his coadjutors would have been dispatched to join their ancestors. After all, the homosexual predilections and military talent of Friedrich II never aroused much indignation in his time, either. The social offense of the Roehms and Strassers in the eyes of the real ruling class in Germany, was their insistence upon playing too long with the thoroughly inconvenient aspirations of the parvenu middle class. The attempt to dilute the compact Reichswehr with Storm Trooper-, symbol of the whole program of a middle class imperiously demanding payment on the promissory notes of Fascist demagoguery, was given the only reply which real, and not apparent, class relations had prepared for it.


The first Fascia Italiano di Combattimento was formed by Mussolini in Milan in March 1919 and was very quickly duplicated in all the principal centers of northern Italy. “These Fasci by no means had a reactionary character, they appeared much rather as a subversive ‘revolutionary’ movement,” on whose banner was inscribed the “struggle for the revolutionary fruits of the revolutionary war”. The first regular Fascist congress adopted a platform remarkable in its middle class radicalism. Women’s suffrage, the lowering of the voting age, proportional representation, the abolition of the Senate, an economic parliament by the side of the political, a national assembly to consider constitutional reform, legislative guarantee of an eight-hour day, minimum wage for all workers, invalid and old-age insurance, a form of workers’ control of production, a steep and progressive income tax tantamount to outright confiscation in many cases, confiscation of war profits up to 85%, the confiscation of clerical wealth, the abolition of the standing army and the establishment of a defensive people’s militia with short-term training periods, nationalization of all arms and munitions plants – these were the outstanding planks in the original Fascist platform. They enabled it to rally not only wide strata of the middle class but many workers as well.

The fact that big agrarians and industrialists guided and financed the Fascists in their murderous assaults upon every labor organization and institution, that following Facta’s resignation Mussolini was asked by the king to form a cabinet only after the telegraphic demand of the Confederazione Generale dell’Industria, is quite well known. Not less contestable, however, is the equally important fact that hundreds of thousands of middle class and proletarian masses looked to Fascism in power for an amelioration if not a solution of their lot. They were quickly undeceived.

The promised proportional representation in elections not only was not introduced, but even the mild form of it established in 1919 was abolished and its place taken at first by an outrageously inequitable “majority system” aimed at drastically reducing the representation of the non-Fascist parties. The woman’s suffrage put into effect was so circumscribed that it was actually confined to the members of the upper classes. Senate and constitution remained without modification in the direction originally indicated. The eight-hour day was “guaranteed” in such a way that the exception became the rule. Wages were reduced to such a point that the League of Nations could recently register Italy at the bottom of the European list. Pensions and insurance were practically abolished. Instead of control of production by the workers, the factory councils were suppressed. Taxation took a course directly opposed to the old pledges. Luxury, automobile and inheritance taxes were completely abolished; a tax on wages was introduced, and indirect taxation assumed monstrous dimensions. The clergy’s wealth remained undisturbed, but religious instruction in the schools, voluntary in Italy for fifty years, was reestablished. Military service was increased from eight to eighteen months; instead of the popular militia, a Fascist Praetorian Guard of half a million men was organized; veterans’ pensions were reduced while vast subsidies were granted war industries and big orders placed for cannon and airplanes.

The proletarian, and above all the petty bourgeois, rubbed his eyes in rueful bitterness and astonishment at the reality of the first year of Fascist sovereignty. The fruits of their revolution were not for them. A tardy disillusionment set in.

“I was an apostle of the first program of the Fascists,” read an open letter written to Mussolini in 1923 by Edoardo Frosini, one of the “Fascists of the first hour” who presided over the first Fascist congress.

“At that time there were not yet any Blackshirts. You, however, still wore our insignia: a red cockade over the tricolor ... With the passage of time you altered the program of 1919 in such a manner that you are protecting those whom original Fascism promised primarily to combat. You have flung yourself into the arms of those whom you wanted to crush and Fascism has become synonymous with reaction in the service of the bourgeoisie and the monarchy ...”

And how like the latter-day insurgent Nazis just put to death by Hitler does it sound when one reads an eleven-year-old article by Farinacci about the “small clique which keeps Mussolini under its spell”; or the speeches of the Fascist under-secretary of state, De Vecchi and the deputy Albanese who openly attacked the government; or the declaration of Cesare Forni in favor of the “second march on Rome” – the equivalent in those days of the “second revolution” in contemporary Nazi Germany. All that has happened there in the last three months is like a thunderous echo of the events in Italy a decade ago!

The petty bourgeoisie clamored for the fulfillment of the alluring promises that had fascinated them from 1919 to 1922. And open civil war broke out in the Fascist party. No city but witnessed a crisis, easily as severe as the Bavarian boudoir interlude of Roehm and Hitler. In Rome, the two contending factions into which the party was split twice marched against each other with bombs and machine guns, and a violent collision was averted only by the intercession of the most prominent party personalities. In Leghorn the dissidents broke into the Fascist militia’s barracks, seized banners and trophies and then occupied the party headquarters. In Turin, Genoa and elsewhere fighting took place between the rival Fascist groups. In Savona, the opposition occupied the city hall, the sub-prefecture, the headquarters of the party and the trade unions. As late as 1926, Triest witnessed two days of street fighting and a state of siege had to be proclaimed; in Rome an attempt was made to seize police headquarters.

Even if less spectacularly than in Germany, the bourgeoisie clubbed the duped middle classes into submission with no less energy and resolution. The “constructive period” of Fascism, said Mussolini a few months after the march on Rome, requires different methods than the “destructive period” – which meant that the petty bourgeoisie had been useful in destroying the labor movement but was now superfluous and even dangerous.

“Since certain sporadic episodes of recent date, which are to be characterized as entirely unjustified acts of violence, give grounds to fear that there are still some elements who have not quite grasped the new situation of Fascism,” warned Mussolini’s personal organ, Popolo d’ltalia, less than a year after his triumph, “we have reason to believe that the government is determined to enjoin an absolute respect of the laws upon all – especially also upon the leaders and soldiers of Fascism ... Every disturber of the peace is an enemy, even if he carries a membership book of the Fascist party in his pocket.”

The dictator himself declared in the Corriero Italiano in September 1923:

“Should we be unable radically to rejuvenate the Fascist party, then it would be better to destroy it and to permit the healthy and fresh forces which live and work within it to merge powerfully into the freer and broader national stream.” [1]

As with the Reichswehr, the attempt to pack the Italian army with Fascist upstarts was a complete failure. The original plan, directed by General Di Giorgio, was to clear the garrisons, send regiments to the frontiers, and fill their places, above all in the large cities, with Fascist battalions. But almost to a man the army generals led by Marshal Cadorna, speedily defeated the plan. And if Di Giorgio did not meet the same fate as Captain Roehm, he was nevertheless sacrificed by Mussolini, who promised the high command that no reform of the army would be undertaken without consulting the military.

The party itself was beaten to an amorphous, voiceless pulp. Mussolini first had to suspend provincial congresses by telegram for fear of the opposition. Later, the elective principle was abolished. Mussolini took over the power to appoint the general secretary of the party, who in turn appointed the provincial secretaries, who thereupon appointed the local secretaries. Both national and provincial party congresses were completely abolished, and party policy became the exclusive prerogative of the Grand Fascist Council appointed by Il Duce. “The slogan is,” Mussolini made it clear in 1926, when the last remnant of active middle class and proletarian opposition was driven under ground, “absolute submission!”

The comparison holds even down to the detail of Der Führer dropping his pilots. “The revolution devours its children.” Of the “Fascists of the first hour”, there are few who did not meet with essentially as cruel a fate as Hitler’s early cronies. The “extremist” Farinacci, replaced as general party secretary by Augusto Turati, met with disgrace in 1926 when it was revealed that he had blackmailed support for his personal organ, Il Regime Fascista, from the wealthy and that he had been mixed up in the financial scandals surrounding the collapse of his friend Count Lusignani’s Agrarian Bank of Parma. Cesare Rossi, the former press chief – the Goebbels of Mussolini – went into exile, as did the deputies Massimo Rocca, Carlo Bazzi and others. The head of the Fascist federation of Rome, Calza Bini, was imprisoned; so was Mussolini’s confidante, Amerigo Dumini, the assassin of Matteotti. The notorious Italo Balbo, who murdered the priest Minzoni and invented the castor oil treatment of anti-Fascists, was sent off to Libya. Filippini, who had been disbarred from the practise of law in Milan for his swindles, is not heard of today. Another of the Fascist “originals”, Umberto Pasella, was eliminated even earlier. Libero Tancredi, who took women, boys, politics and his comrades’ money with equal light-mindedness, also disappeared from the Fascist horizon.

I.C.H.

 

Footnote

1. Compare this with the following excerpts:

“The Berlin NSBO numbers more than 400,000 members today; we shall now slowly have to take inventory. Perhaps we shall have to throw out some 80 to 100 thousand. But better a quarter of a million fighters who know why they are fighting and what they’re here for, than a half a million who are nothing but a wild mob.” (Herr Goebbel’s Angriff, May 22, 1933.)

“Instead of these newly accepted members seeing their task in working and proving their worth to the party, they who in past years never thought of being radical, they want to outbid us in radicalism. So they come with the party program and the Hitler book, Mein Kampf, and ask: Why isn’t this carried out yet? Why aren’t the banks socialized yet? And they think they can impress us by that.” (Herr Goebbels, Vossische Zeitung, May 20, 1933.)

 
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