Written: August 1943
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 5 no. 17 (Mid-August 1943)
Transcription: Lisi 2004, Francesco 2013
Proofread: Fred, Emil 2006, Francesco 2013
Markup: Francesco 2013
The fall of Mussolini poses many questions before the workers of Italy and the world. What sort of revolution is beginning in the Italian peninsula? What is the meaning of the Badoglio regime? Is the revolution in Italy a “democratic” one and what are the perspectives for the revolution? All these questions immediately spring to the mind of socialist workers.
The events of the past fortnight have been the means of elucidating what is taking place, in spite of the trickle of news which is allowed to leave Italy. Within twenty-four hours of the news of the resignation of Mussolini the workers, in Italy had razed the Fascist Party to its foundations. It was not safe to appear in the streets with a black shirt or any other fascist emblems. Thus the masses demonstrated their hatred of fascism. In spite of the persecutions of Badoglio and the Italian capitalists, the fall of Mussolini was the signal for an upsurge on the part of the working class. Instinctively the workers have begun to take the first steps of the revolution — the socialist revolution. Workers’ committees — i.e., soviets — have sprung up in the Northern industrial cities overnight. Beginning with Brescia, the arsenal city, the workers have seized arms and founded an armed workers’ militia. In various cities the soldiers have refused to fire on the workers, and in Milan they have sent their delegates to the soviets, where also, significantly enough, the peasants of the surrounding district are also represented.
All these moves indicate that unconsciously, and unclearly perhaps, but nevertheless decisively, the workers have taken the road of the socialist revolution. In Russia the revolution began in a similar fashion. The contradictions of Tsarism had reached an unbearable pitch and fearing revolution from the masses, certain strata of the ruling class attempted a “palace revolution” from above to prevent revolution from below, a conspiracy which was indicated by the murder of Rasputin by certain members of the nobility attached to the Tsarist court. In the same way the ruling classes in Italy had become convinced of the uselessness of fascism as a repressive means of keeping the masses under control and of duping them; feeling the tremors of the revolution which have been shaking Italy they also have attempted to save themselves by a “palace revolution”. The difference between Italy and Russia lies in the fact that the palace revolution has been carried out in Italy. But this does not alter anything fundamental, but merely gives events a different direction and a different form.
The idea of the Italian ruling class was to dispense with the inflated and exploded demagogue whom they used as a mask and resort to a plain military dictatorship, with rule by the army and with the king as a figurehead.
Badoglio’s record and that of his backers indicates that in essence there is no real difference between him and Mussolini. The same forces that supported and financed Mussolini are still in control in Italy today. The monarchy, the church, the landowners and capitalists are behind Badoglio. Badoglio himself revealed his position when he said, in an interview with the French journalist, André Rabache:
“I am an Italian, before anything else. I am proud to have made my King an Emperor. I am grateful to the Duce for everything he has done to facilitate the military task he entrusted to me. Mussolini is a great man. It is time that was recognised in London and Paris. Tell your readers this; it is your first duty. For myself, I will serve Mussolini right to the end, for Mussolini serves His Majesty.”
This interview took place in his special train between Naples and Rome, when he returned from the Abyssinian campaign newly entitled the Duke of Addis Ababa. Later in Tripoli, Badoglio told the same reporter:
“All your journalists’ questions on Franco-Italian relations forget a factor of prime importance: you have much too many communists in your country. France’s neighbours, in Africa as in Europe, above all, protect themselves from that poison… Let us give thanks to heaven, and to the farsightedness of His Majesty that there is amongst us, a man who has protected Italy against the corrupting revolution…
“If you follow us, the four principle powers of Europe will at last recognise the truth; that of a civilisation founded on capitalism, on intellectual worth, and the necessary social privileges of the ruling classes.”
The same irresistible pressure of the masses, the same crisis which caused the fall of Mussolini, is continuing in Italy today. With the difference that now the safety valve has burst. The Badoglio government cannot solve any of the problems which face Italy. It is, and can only be, a reactionary stop-gap government. Already it is compelled to announce the bankruptcy of Italy — a legacy bequeathed by Mussolini — and the necessity for a further increase in the price of goods. The measures announced can only mean a tremendous inflation and a worsening of the already intolerable standards of the masses, reduced to below subsistence level by 20 years of fascism. It is clear that the awakening masses will not stand for this long. The Badoglio government will reveal itself as completely incapable of coping with the position.
The situation that is developing in Italy is similar to that after the February revolution in Russia. The masses are just becoming conscious of their power. With a strong revolutionary socialist party and a strong leadership, the Italian workers would become conscious of their strivings and would move to take power into their own hands. This alone could solve the problems of Italian society. In Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks solved the problem posed by history by leading the Russian workers to a victorious conclusion of the revolution, by overthrowing the corrupt ruling class and organising society on a new foundation.
The Badoglio government came to power at a peculiar stage of the war. It represents an attempt on the part of the Italian capitalists to come to an agreement with the Allies and save something from the wreckage of the war. Badoglio himself and the whole of the Italian ruling class realise that the present regime cannot last long in face of the virtual collapse of the economic system in Italy, already foreshadowed by the drastic decrees which have been announced. These measures can only add fuel to the smouldering discontent of all the exploited. The peasants, the workers, the middle class, all already hopelessly ruined by fascism, will find their conditions aggravated by the new impositions of the capitalists. Already the decrees have provoked panic among the middle class, who have commenced a run on the banks with the development of inflation which will wipe out their “savings.”
That is why the Italian capitalists are preparing for some sort of deal with the Allied imperialists, if possible. To save themselves from their own people they must have the backing of foreign bayonets — whether those of Hitler or those of the Allies is immaterial to them. What they are attempting to do is to drive the best bargain they can in the interests of the ruling class. And since they see the writing on the wall for Hitler, they are endeavouring to do a deal with the Allies.
Caught between the hammer of the Allied Armies, and the anvil of German imperialism, the revolution in Italy is in danger of being crushed. But even so, Hitler and Churchill have regarded the movement of the masses with alarm and fear. Roosevelt’s speech, Churchill’s speech, Eisenhower’s behaviour — the activities of AMGOT(1) — all indicate their desire to save the ruling class in Italy and even the wretched monarchy from paying the historic penalty for their crimes.
On this background and the internal situation in Italy itself, what the workers of Italy and the international working class need is a clear understanding of the problems which face them and a clear solution. When we examine the programme of the workers’ parties in Italy and their international counterparts, we see their criminal treachery and their incapacity to face up to the situation.
The Italian Socialist Party has issued a Manifesto in which they have correctly called for the overthrow of Badoglio and the king by a general strike and have castigated the “Liberal” editors in Italy who have been agitating against a change of the present government. But this is what they say:
“We are of the opinion that the fascist monarchy deserves to have unconditional surrender imposed upon it as demanded by the Allies.
“We appeal to the democratic powers, to conduct peace negotiations with delegates of the Italian people on the basis of the Atlantic Charter.”
As if the “aims” of the Allies had anything to do with “democracy” or anything else except the struggle for profits, for markets, for raw materials and spheres of influence. And as though Wall Street and the City of London did not back Mussolini and Italian fascism right up to their clash of interests in the war.
Mussolini broke with Churchill and Roosevelt, and not the reverse. Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s speeches demonstrated that they are prepared to do a deal with the House of Savoy and Badoglio, or possibly Umberto or Grandi(2) or some similar combination tomorrow, if it suits their interests. Thus the Italian Socialist Party attempts to differentiate between Tweedledum and Tweedledee — between the Allied capitalists and the Italian. No programme of demands for the workers and peasants of Italy — just a vague demand for democratic rights and liberties. What will the “unconditional surrender” mean for the Italian masses? It would mean nothing short of a military dictatorship with the same gang of capitalists in control; it would mean the bleeding of the Italian masses not only by Italian capitalism but by Allied capitalism as well. Thus the Italian socialists prepare a new debacle for the Italian workers and peasants.
The policy of Stalinism in Italy would seem incredible were it not for the crimes they have already committed in China, Germany, France and Spain against the socialist revolution. For they indignantly repudiate any suggestion that they stand for socialism or the social revolution in Italy. The Marxian analysis of the class forces in Italy is deliberately abandoned; in place of the classes they place the Italian “nation”, whose main job is to throw out not the Nazis — but the Germans.
The Daily Worker says on August 10:
“They (the communists — EG) are fighting in the ranks of the movement in the interests of the nation, and to see to it that the movement does not come to a standstill until the nation’s claims and urgent needs are satisfied.”
The same issue of the Daily Worker reports with satisfaction that the Italian parties from “conservative to communist” in Italy have agreed to the composition of a “left bourgeois” government if Badoglio should fall. “The suggested government would have a left bourgeois character.”
Thus these traitors prepare for the Italian workers, the same fate as the workers suffered in France and Spain through the alliance with the capitalists in the so-called “People’s Front.”
In Italy such a policy is particularly pernicious. It was the liberals who smoothed the way for Mussolini to come to power in 1920-1922. The CP has not a word to say against the real culprits of fascism, the big capitalists and landowners, the generals and bankers, who placed Mussolini in power. Thus they prepare the way for a new and worse tyranny over the Italian masses by these same forces. In addition to that they picture the Allies as “democrats” and “liberators”. This is tantamount to preparing the way for a stab in the back against the Italian workers, and peasants. There is no crime too despicable for these contemptible lackeys!
The position of the British Labour leaders and the British Stalinists is just as bad, if not worse. All that the National Council of Labour can do is to follow in the footsteps of their masters and screech: “unconditional surrender”. Not a word about defending the interests of socialism in Italy against any attack. The CP naturally screeches louder in the accents of chauvinism, repeating the same theme, in a more jingoistic and hysterical manner. And they too have not a word explaining the actions and meaning of the movement of the Italian working class and peasantry.
The ILP has also failed at the first serious test of the revolution in Europe. While calling for the socialist revolution in Europe and for the British working class to rally to the support of the Italian workers and peasants, they do not understand the tasks clearly. Their position would obviously appeal to workers, when compared to the perfidy of the Stalinist and Labour organisations. But just because of this, it can be fatal for the Italian and British workers. Fenner Brockway writes in the New Leader of August 7:
“There were two Italian socialist parties before the war — one affiliated to the Second International, the other (the maximalists) to our international centre. At the time of the split our section had a majority, but in emigration its resources were small compared with the influentially backed, more moderate section, and it is impossible to say which retained greater support in Italy itself. I think it likely that under present circumstances the breach will be healed; certainly the majority of Italian socialists, who have a great revolutionary tradition, will regard any popular front as temporary, and will press on towards the full socialist revolution.”
And further on, Brockway states:
“Just before the downfall of Mussolini I attended a gathering of Italian socialists in London. They belonged to the Second International section, but, nevertheless, were outspoken in their criticism of Allied policy as already revealed in Sicily. They pointed out that whilst the Fascist Party and fascist militia had been dissolved, there was no indication that the fascist political and economic administration had been destroyed. Fascist mayors and officials remained in office, fascist barons were still the lords of the peasants and fascist industrialists still the bosses of factories and mines. At the same time, political activity by the people to end the regime was prohibited. Was dictatorship to continue under the Allies? they asked.”
Thus, just at the moment when clarity is essential for the Italian and British workers, the ILP confuses the issues. Brockway correctly warns: “But the socialist revolution faces formidable odds. Within Italy it will be opposed by the remnants of the fascists, the near-fascists, the monarchists and the reactionary catholics. It will also have to meet two external enemies — the Nazis and Allied capitalism.” He then goes on to say that Allied and German imperialism are terrible dangers for the Italian revolution. True! And it is to the credit of the ILP that they expose British imperialism. But just as dangerous to the Italian masses is the programme of Stalinism and reformism. Brockway’s article and the New Leader does not contain one single word of warning against the counter-revolutionary role of Social Democracy and Stalinism. In spite of the tragic experience of his brother party POUM in Spain, he advocates “unity” with the reformists! Not only that but he airily vouches for the good will of the Italian socialists, who will not stop at the popular front stage. As Brockway has referred to the Kerensky “popular front” period, perhaps it would not be out of place to remind him, that had Lenin followed such policies in Russia, there would have been no Russian revolution and the Russian masses would have suffered the fate of the workers of Spain.
It would be the duty of any party claiming to be revolutionary socialist, to sharply differentiate its policy, from that of reformism. Brockway characterises the role of the Allies correctly. The Italian socialists appeal to these same Allies for support in setting up “democracy” in Italy, they call for unconditional surrender to these same Allies, they support Allied imperialism in the war. But this means nothing to Brockway. He still believes in collaboration in the same party with these Allied flunkeys. If the Italian workers and peasants follow the advice of Brockway, they will have their necks broken by the counterrevolution. At every crisis nationally and internationally the ILP shows its true character. It is not a revolutionary but a centrist, half-reformist party. Tomorrow in the British revolution it will itself behave in the same way as it suggests to its brother parties. ILP workers should seriously reconsider our criticism of their policy in the light of this crisis.
Only the programme of the Fourth International can stand the supreme test of the revolution. Our programme says: No support for Allied imperialism in its intervention against the Italian revolution! Tomorrow the British and American capitalists will attempt to make a deal with Badoglio, or some other lesser known Badoglio. The Italian workers, soldiers and peasants can rely only on their own independent forces, their own strength; their own militias and their own soviets in the struggle against the Italian capitalist class. Only by appealing to the class instincts of the Allied and German workers and soldiers can they receive any international support and solidarity. But to do this they must advance to take power into their own hands. The struggle in Italy must be waged round the demand for the rights of free speech, press and organisation unconditionally! For the overthrow of Badoglio and the king!
And those who organised, armed and financed fascism must not escape from the consequences of their crimes. The big landowners and capitalists put Mussolini in power — they must be expropriated! Never again must these gangsters have the opportunity to decide the fate of the workers and peasants. Land to the peasants! Factories to the workers! Peace to the peoples! For the international solidarity of the working class! Against all capitalists and their governments! This must be the rallying programme of the Italian workers and peasants! Only thus can they conquer.
The workers have taken the first instinctive steps in this direction. But they did so in France and Spain and were then diverted by the Stalinists, the socialists and the ILPists into the channels of the peoples’ front. What the masses need above all is a revolutionary policy. That policy is provided only by the Fourth International.
Events will move quickly. It may be that the Italian revolution will be strangled by the imperialists from without and the traitors from within. But it is to the immortal glory of the Italian workers that they have begun. Europe and the world will never be the same again. Tomorrow it will be Hitler’s turn or the turn of the Balkans. The European socialist revolution is on the order of the day. We salute the heroic workers, peasants and soldiers of Italy. The workers of Europe and Britain have a dress rehearsal for what is to come. All parties and programmes have been tested in the fire of revolution. Only the Fourth International has stood the test! Under its banner the workers of Europe and Britain will conquer and build a new world, the socialist united states of Europe.
(1) Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories: military rule administered by Allied forces during and after World War II within territories they occupied.
(2) Umberto II (1904-1983), was the last King of Italy. He was nicknamed the King of May because he reigned slightly over a month, from May 9 to June 12, 1946. Dino Grandi (1895-1988), was a high ranking fascist, minister of justice, minister of foreign affairs and president of Parliament during the fascist regime. On July 24, 1943 he took the lead of the anti-Mussolini faction within the Fascist Grand Council which led to the fall of Mussolini.