Joseph Hansen

Stop Fascism in America!

Will Father Coughlin Become Dictator of the United States?

(August 1939)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 59, 15 August 1939, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2016 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2016; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

(Second Installment)
Mussolini Promises Everything to Everybody

First Benito Mussolini added the title Il Duce to his name. This was to give whatever he said an air of positive authority. He bolstered this authority when he orated with a glower that wrinkled his forehead. He tossed back his head, shot out his jaw pugnaciously, and raised his arm in a powerful salute.

These actions impressed the hounded and desperate people outside the labor movement who hungered for someone with enough boldness and audacity to lead them from their scarcity to the plenty which Italian industry could produce.

Then Il Duce began promising.

He assured the stockholding capitalists that no matter what happened they could depend on him to preserve private property; that is, to see to it that the nation’s industries continued to run exclusively for their private benefit.

In Italy, where large sections of the workers understood very clearly that the fundamental cause for the depression and their misery was private property, it was necessary to do this not too loudly.

Having reached a thorough understanding with the big stockholders, including some heavy greasing of his treasury with cash subsidies, Mussolini whipped up his public campaign.

To the workers he promised a slashing attack against the capitalists.

“We are taking action not against the working class, but for it. We have so little concern for the bourgeoisie that we have put at the head of our program a demand for expropriation of large private fortunes, for confiscation of war-time super-profits, for heavy taxation of capital. We will accept no kind of dictatorship.” (Popolo d’ltalia, July 23, 1919. Quoted in The Plough and The Sword, p. 34)

Il Duce in his public speeches even supported some of the strikes of the workers.

The Black Shirts, of course, continued “taking action not against the working class but for it” with knife-blows in the backs of the workers.

To the terribly oppressed agricultural workers who slaved on the huge estates of the rich land owners, he promised

the land they tilled.

“In a few months, all of Italy will be in our power ... and we shall be entrusted with the task of accomplishing: the only revolution possible in Italy, the agrarian revolution, which must give the land to those who cultivate it.” (Speech of Benito Mussolini, March 23, 1921. Quoted in Fascism and Big Business, p. 93)

To those who saw in the nobility and the king the source of their ills, Mussolini promised “abolition of the Monarchy, the Senate, and the Nobility.”

To those who felt that they suffered oppression from the Roman Catholic Church he promised “confiscation of all Church property.”

And to the small merchants he appealed with a program of taxing the rich and seizing the huge profits piled up by Big Business.

“We demand: (a) a heavy extraordinary tax on capital ... with a view to its partial expropriation; (b) the seizure of all property of religious associations ... (c) revision of all war-supplies contracts and seizure of 85% of the war-time super-profits ...” (Popolo d’ltalia, April 20, 1920. Quoted in The Plow and the Sword, p. 151)

These measures, Mussolini claimed, would give jobs and three square meals a day to everyone.

But the greater part of his propaganda he devoted to constructing a national scapegoat on whom to blame the economic misfortune which afflicted the people. A scapegoat would conveniently divert the wrath of the people from the real cause – private ownership of the national industries and resources.

Although there were only a few thousand Jews in Italy and no frenzy or hate existed in the population against them, nevertheless he blamed the “international Jewish bankers” and “loan capital” as being at the bottom of the trouble. His attacks against the bankers brought him a great deal of popularity among those suffering from mortgages and high rates of interest.

He accused “Bolshevism” and “Communism” as being responsible for Italy’s ills, and the democratic capitalist government, which everybody could see was doing absolutely nothing to solve the crisis, he attacked as being the tool of “Jewish capital” and “Bolshevism.”

Mussolini advocated a “strong state,” a government which would do something.

A corporate state, he said, would stop the struggle between the workers and the bosses, wipe out “costly” strikes, and unite everybody – employer and worker alike – behind “Italy.”

Still Mussolini was unable to chisel deeply into the trade unions. This did not disturb him; he was enmeshing those who were unorganised – the unemployed, the young people who had no jobs, all those who were desperate and harried and suffering under the vast crushing weight of a nationwide economic crisis.

Mussolini Begins Inserting the Stiletto

While he was blowing rainbowrcolored bubbles in public, Mussolini sent his followers, whom he dressed in black shirts, into action against the victim which had been picked by the capitalists for the slaughter.

The Black Shirts started cautiously. They began by distributing Fascist literature in ever-widening circles.

No one stopped them.

They beat up a few workers.

No one stopped them.

They gained in boldness and stabbed a few workers.

No one stopped them.

Then they began a very clever procedure. Fifty or sixty of them piled into trucks and drove to a workers’ meeting. They lined up with their black-jacks and knives, and then rushed the meeting with all the fury of wild beasts.

The workers, caught unawares, stumbled back confused, broke out of the building. In this way fifty Black Shirts were able to break up meetings of five hundred workers.

This action phase of Mussolini’s program delighted the capitalists. They toasted one another in champagne over their good judgment in greasing Il Duce’s treasury. Prosperity winked at them just around the corner.

The Black Shirts increased the number of beatings and tortures of workers. Truckloads of Black Shirts travelled from town to town breaking up workers’ meetings, pillaging, murdering. Flames leaped up behind them like funeral pyres marking their progress.

With every resource at their command the police aided the Fascists. Workers possessing guns were disarmed. Workers resisting the Black Shirts were arrested and thrown in jail. The police provided trucks, gasoline and guns for the Black Shirts.

If a group succeeded in repelling a Fascist attack, then the Black Shirts returned the following night with reinforcements and ferociously hunted down the “guilty” workers.

The Defense of the Italian Workers

The average worker felt that there was only one way in which he could defend himself from the terrorism and violence of the Black Shirts, and that way was by FORCE.

In many sections of Italy the workers began to organize Trade Union Defense Guards. These Defense Guards were an extension of the idea of picket squads. They were organized on a permanent basis and trained themselves to defend the working class organizations from the onslaught of all forces that attacked with terror and violence. Wherever these Defense Guards were set up they sent the Black Shirts cowering for cover.

But the leaders of the working class organizations .decided on a different strategy. They hoped to reach a compromise with Mussolini or to persuade the Chief of Police to do his duty and stop the fascists by throwing them in jail wherever they raised their knives.

The heads of the labor movement denounced every member who defended himself by putting up his fists in self-defense. “That is physical violence,” argued these heads of the trade unions. “It plays the game of the fascists.” Such arguments could not have played the game of the Fascists better if Mussolini had paid for them in cold cash.

These strategists launched a whirlwind campaign of aggressive ... postcard writing, protesting to the Chief of Police and “demanding” that he suppress the Fascists. They sent delegations to the government and demanded that it strip the Fascists of “every last vestige of power.” And they began a huge election drive to show up the violence and terror of the Black Shirts at the ballot box.

These tactics weakened the forces of the workers. It laid them wide open to the ruthless attack of the Black Shirts who hoped for nothing better than this.

Their whole strategy was summed up in the phrase, “Help King Victor exert pressure against Fascism!”

All those who demanded that a way be found out of the depression saw that the workers were frittering away their destiny scribbling penny postcards.

Mussolini, at least, seemed to provide action.

Il Duce began to look like a sure winner to them. They flocked to hear him denounce the “international Jewish bankers,” the “Bolshevik leaders of the unions,” and “loan capital,” The glitter of Il Duce’s promises dazzled them.

(Continued in next issue)


Last updated on: 12 March 2016