Antonio Gramsci 1921
First published: Ordine Nuovo, 25 August 1921;
Translated: for MIA by Ben W.
The crisis of fascism, about whose origins and causes so much is now being written, can easily be explained by a serious examination of the evolution of the fascist movement itself.
The Fasci di combattimento were born in the aftermath of the war. They were imbued with the petit-bourgeois character of the various veterans associations which arose at that time.
Due to their trenchant opposition to the socialist movement they obtained the support of the capitalists and the authorities. This aspect of the Fasci was inherited in part from the conflict between the Socialist Party and the ‘interventionist’ associations during the war years.
They emerged during the same period when the rural landowners were feeling the need to create a White Guard to tackle the growing workers’ organisations. The gangs that were already organised and armed by the big landowners soon adopted the label Fasci for themselves too. With their subsequent development, these gangs would acquire their own distinct character – as a White Guard of capitalism against the class organs of the proletariat.
Fascism still conserves this trait of its origins. But until very recently, the fervour of the armed offensive kept a lid on the tensions between the urban cadre – who are predominantly petit-bourgeois, orientated on parliament, and ‘collaborationist’ – and the rural cadre, which consist of the big and medium landowners and their tenant farmers.
These rural groups are engaged in a fight against the poor peasants and their organisations. They are acutely anti-union and reactionary. And they have far more faith in direct armed action than in the authority of the state and the efficacy of parliament.
In the agricultural regions (Emilia, Toscana, Veneto and Umbria) fascism has achieved its greatest development. There, with the financial support of the capitalists and the protection of the civil and military authorities, it has attained a power without limits.
The ruthless offensive against the class organs of the proletariat has served the capitalists well. In the course of a year they've seen all the apparatus of the socialist unions smashed and rendered impotent.
However, this offensive has also had another effect. It is clear that the escalating violence has provoked a widespread hostility towards fascism among the middle and working classes.
The episodes in Sarzana, Treviso, Viterbo and Roccastrada profoundly shook the fascist cadre in the cities – personified in Mussolini – who began to see a danger in the exclusively negative tactics of the Fasci in the agricultural regions.
However, it is also true that these tactics have already borne excellent fruit – dragging the Socialist Party on to a terrain of compromise and making them favourable to collaboration in the country and in Parliament.
From this point on, the latent tensions [between the rural and urban fascist cadre] began to manifest themselves in full force.
The urban, collaborationist cadre believed they had now reached their objective. They felt the Socialist Party had abandoned ‘class intransigence’, and now these cadre hurried to make their victory official with the pacification pact.
But the agrarian capitalists could not renounce the sole tactic that assured them the ‘free’ exploitation of the peasant class – the tactic that was ridding them of the inconvenience of strikes and workers’ organisations.
All the arguments currently raging in the fascist camp, between those who are for and those who are against the pacification pact, come down to this fundamental rift. Its origins are rooted in those of the fascist movement itself.
The claims of the Italian socialists to have provoked the split in the fascists’ ranks with their skilful politics of compromise merely serve to confirm the socialists’ demagogy.
In reality the ‘crisis’ of fascism is not new. It has always existed. Once the contingent reasons that maintained the unity of these anti-proletarian groups ceased, it was inevitable that their latent disagreements would quickly flare up. The crisis, therefore, is nothing other than the clarification of pre-existing tendencies.
This crisis will provoke a split among the fascists. The parliamentary faction, headed by Mussolini, and based on the middle classes (white-collar workers, shopkeepers and small manufacturers) will attempt to organise these milieux politically. It will of necessity move towards a collaboration with the socialists and the ‘popolari’.
The intransigent [rural] faction, that expresses the need for the direct and armed defence of the agrarian capitalists’ interests, will continue to carry out their characteristic anti-proletarian actions. For this faction (the most important in regard to the working class) the ‘truce’ acclaimed as a victory by the socialists will be worthless.
The ‘crisis’ will only signal the departure from the movement of a petit-bourgeois faction that has tried in vain to justify fascism with a general political ‘party’ program. But fascism – the genuine article that the peasants and workers of Emilia, Veneto and Tuscany know through their own painful experiences of the last two years of white terror – will continue, although perhaps under a different name.
There is now a lull in hostilities, due to the discord within the fascist camp. The task of revolutionary workers and peasants is to take advantage of this pause to instill in the oppressed and defenceless masses a clear understanding of the true state of the class struggle – and the means necessary to defeat the swaggering capitalist reaction.