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New International, November 1938



Stalinism and Fascism in Italy

From New International, Vol.4 No.11, November 1938, pp.340-343.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


STALINISM PRESENTS ITSELF throughout the entire world as the only force which struggles in a determined and consistent manner against fascism. Whoever is not disposed to admit this claim, whoever does not submit to its declarations, whoever is bold enough to pull away its mask and present Stalinism to the masses in its true form revealing its repugnant depravity and duplicity, whoever dares do this falls inexorably under the blows of its limitless hate and its impudent calumnies. One is faced immediately with the threat of being machine-gunned passing a street corner, or being kidnapped by one of the innumerable bands of the GPU, to disappear completely.

Yet facts are stubborn things. And more and more it is becoming evident that Stalinism with its “ideology”, its policies, its gangsterism which reaches into every domain, its habits, provocations and assassinations, far from constituting a barrier to fascism facilitates its ascendancy over the masses and becomes in fact an aid in its march to victory.

It would be idle to recall the contribution which Stalinism made to fascism with its policy which led to the crushing of the Chinese revolution in 1927. Futile also to recall the role played by the criminal Stalinist policy in the rise and triumph of fascism in Germany. Today it is clear to the whole world that the shameful capitulation of the German Stalinists before Hitler, without a struggle, formed part of the political “plan” of Stalin who, with the genius which distinguishes him, thought that in this way he would secure the alliance of a greatly strengthened Germany against Anglo-French imperialism. Just as in 1927 he offered to Chiang Kai-shek the head of the Chinese revolution to maintain him as an ally, so in 1932 he sacrificed the German revolution in order to buy an alliance with Hitler.

It is primarily as a result of the policy followed by the Stalinists in China and in Germany that fascism represents at the present moment a mortal danger in all countries of the world. Equally clear is the real significance of the Popular Front advocated by the Stalinists in France, in Spain, and elsewhere. The struggle against fascism, however, has been and is nothing but a pretext. The real aim of the Stalinist policy is quite different: it consists of an attempt to find new allies for the Soviet bureaucracy. It matters little if these allies are “democrats”, of downright reactionaries, or fascists. In point of fact, the real line of demarcation established by the Stalinists between “friends” and “enemies” is not at all the line which separates fascists and antifascists. Still less is this demarcation based on the criteria of class.

No, the “friends” are those who accept – in the largest sense of the word – the policies of the Moscow government. The “enemies” are those who refuse to accept it. The former are respectfully treated as the “friends of peace”, as upright and honest men, even when they are reactionaries or fascists. The latter are termed “bandits”, “spies”, and “fascists”, even if by all the actions of their whole lives – and sometimes even their deaths – they have shown themselves the most bitter enemies of fascism.

Lord Cecil, for example, who declared peremptorily to an eminent French personage that he favored the victory of Franco in Spain, but that he was opposed to Germany and Japan, remains for the Stalinists a “great friend”, a “striking illustration” of the “British people and policy”. French reactionaries who favor the maintenance of the Franco-Soviet pact are either spared from criticism or are praised extravagantly. On the occasion of his visit to Paris, Marshal Smigly-Rydz was greeted by Thorez in terms of unprecedented servility although the blood of Polish strikers and peasants killed by his bullets was still fresh on his hands. And in contrast, revolutionary workers who, for example, at the outbreak of hostilities in Spain were the first to man the barricades and hurl themselves into the trenches against Franco and to fight for the triumph of socialism; those who in fact wanted to fight against bourgeois exploitation; those who are unwilling to offer their skins spontaneously for the next imperialist butchery in the camp of the “democracies” – are called thieves, spies, “agents of the Gestapo”, whom it is necessary to exterminate like mad dogs.

This policy which is anti-fascist in name only (and sometimes, as will be shown in the following, even the name is abandoned) and which in practice renders the greatest services to fascism, is manifested with striking clarity amongst the Italian Stalinists. To show this, we shall limit ourselves to presenting certain typical facts and attitudes in which is concentrated to a certain extent and summarized the policy of Italian Stalinism.

* * *

The Ethiopian War

The Ethiopian war, by its clearly imperialist character, by the particularly odious manner in which it was prepared and conducted, by the shady deals which it fostered before, during and after “sanctions”, and finally by the effects it would have on the toiling masses in Italy, offered – after the “Matteoti crisis” of 1924 – a unique opportunity for the Italian proletariat to crush the fascist regime and open the way to the triumph of the proletarian revolution in the Peninsula. A party whose leaders were anything but bureaucrats rotten to the very marrow of their bones, cowards and traitors, and which had not trampled upon the elementary teachings of Bolshevism with an intensity which amounted to pure sadism, would have been able without great difficulty to become the determining factor in the Italian situation. It would have been able to summon millions of proletarians and the great masses from the fields and cities to hurl themselves in powerful waves against the bourgeois-fascist regime of Italy, even to the point of dismantling it and destroying it.

But two conditions were necessary to achieve this: first, to show the Italian people by a fiercely internationalist attitude that the struggle against the Abyssinian war had nothing in common with an attempt to shield the colonial spoils of Anglo-French imperialism, and that, on the contrary, the struggle against the savagery of fascism was at the same time the surest means of splintering the bases of Anglo-French imperialism; and, secondly, to develop by all means available the class struggle within Italy. Realization of this second condition, it is evident, would have resulted as a direct consequence of the first.

But the Italian Stalinists not only did nothing to further these aims, instead they did everything possible to prevent their realization.

Beyond the boundaries of Italy, all their activity was based upon and carried out under the patronage of the League of Nations, that is, the interests of Anglo-French imperialism. The disastrous masquerades of the “Anti-Fascist Congresses”, the delegations at Geneva – all staged with Stalinist gold – the press campaigns, all were carried on for the purpose of assuring British and French imperialism that their only guaranty for the pacific exploitation of their dominions and colonies was the victory of “anti-fascism”.

Fascist Italy – more precisely, the Italy directed by Mussolini – constituted a danger for the conquests of the Anglo-French imperialists, while an Italy freed of Mussolini would be a guaranty for the fleshpots of the magnates of London and Paris. This was the thesis, sometimes masked, sometimes open, but always real, of the Stalinists and of the official Italian “anti-fascists”.

It was precisely this thesis which Mussolini needed in order to disqualify with a stroke of the pen all “anti-fascism” beyond the frontiers and to bind around himself the Italian masses. You see, said the fascist press, these anti-fascist gentlemen who live abroad and pride themselves on being Italians, just look at them. They oppose our conquest of empire, but breathe never so much as a word against the empire of those who eat five times a day and rule over hundreds of millions of colonial subjects. And not only that: they go so far as to place themselves in the service of the rich imperialists, urging them to act against us who are poor, who have only colonies of sand and who are merely struggling to attain for ourselves our rightful place in the sun.

The influence of anti-fascism was liquidated.

Mussolini obtained an enormous victory. The Stalinist policy succeeded in cementing the masses around him instead of, as was imperative, mobilizing them to fight him.

The “skillful” policy of the Stalinists and of all official “anti-fascism” within Italy was, if possible, even more stupid than that practiced beyond the borders. Furthermore, it was merely the inevitable extension of that policy. It found its highest expression in the “Anti-Fascist Congress” convoked at Brussels in 1936 in the midst of the Geneva “sanctions”, summed up in the two formulas: “Via Mussolini dal Governo” (Mussolini out of the government); and “Do nothing which might frighten the Italian (and the British and the French) bourgeoisie.” With the first formula the Stalinists and the official “anti-fascists” declared openly that their immediate aim was not the overthrow of the fascist regime, but only the removal of Mussolini! And with the second they said to the masses: Attention! Demand the removal of Mussolini from the government, but ... do not take any active steps for, otherwise, you will force the bourgeoisie to run to him again for protection!

Translated into simple language, these two formulas signify the following: You, the monarchy, the Vatican, the bourgeoisie, the landlords, if you remain attached to this adventurer Mussolini – will be lost. Dismiss him, then, and in exchange we will permit you to enjoy “tranquillity” – and we already give you our pledge. Thus the “skillful” formula of the Stalinists which was to “mobilize all the layers” of the Italian people against the “adventurer” Mussolini, was nothing but a straight-jacket clamped down upon the proletariat and the working masses of Italy to present them from swinging into action.

It was, in fact, a repetition, word for word, of the policy followed by L’Aventin in 1924 during the Matteoti crisis. But without a parliamentary split, without the agitation of the masses, and carried on not at Rome, but in Brussels! The policy of L’Aventin served and consolidated fascism. That of the Stalinists, carried out during the Abyssinian war, served and consolidated it twice over. It does not strain the imagination to guess that Mussolini, reading the speeches and resolutions of Brussels must have been convulsed with great roars of laughter. “The masses will demand ...” while remaining “tranquil”! Then, no strikes, no defeatism, no sabotage, no seizure of the land, no refusal to pay taxes. In a word, no civil war in Italy. Empty phrases, nothing more, serving merely to justify the appointment of the bureaucrats. But if the masses remain tranquil, if they do not listen to the “demagogy of the Trotskyist provocateurs” (for once again at the “Anti-Fascist Congress” at Brussels this was their language) then thought Mussolini, the monarchy, the Vatican, the bourgeoisie, the large proprietors, and tutti quanti, quite correctly, the masses even if they wish (which, moreover, was far from being true) will be completely incapable of leading any disturbance!

Mussolini applauded. He had won a second battle.

* * *

The “Honest” Interests of Italian Imperialism

The assurances given by the Stalinists to all layers of the Italian bourgeoisie about the maintenance of social peace in Italy, were, nevertheless, considered insufficient by the Stalinists themselves; the more so since none of these bourgeois layers were in a hurry to respond to their appeal; and still more because the assurances given Anglo-French imperialism about the integrity of their colonial domination deprived the Italian bourgeoisie of all imperialist perspective. This obviously was unspeakably disagreeable to the latter. But the Italian Stalinists are nothing if not resourceful. That is why overnight they discovered the “honest interests” of Italy (imperialist and fascist) in Central Europe and the Balkans. “Our government” – that is, the government of which Mussolini is the head – wrote the Stalinist bureaucrats in their press, instead of making war against the Abyssinians, instead of seeking adventures in the Mediterranean, should organize and “defend the just and honest interests of Italy (sic!) in Central Europe and the Balkans. In so doing, they will work for peace, for civilization, for the honor of our well-loved country: Italy.”

As can be seen, the plan which the Italian Stalinists offered – and offer – to fascist Italian imperialism is complete. It is true, they wanted to place a barrier in the direction of Africa and the Mediterranean, but solely to offer immediately thereafter – animated solely on paper – an infinitely more “advantageous” compensation beyond the Adriatic. For it was surely necessary that Italian imperialism also should find some way to secure its bread.

Only “our government” – the fascist government with Mussolini at its head! – was not entirely of the same mind as the Stalinists. The government thought that at the moment expansion toward Africa and the Mediterranean contained fewer risks than the “defense” of the “honest” interests indicated by their enterprising collaborators. It is possible that they were wrong – we hope so with all our strength – and that they will end up by breaking their necks. But what is important is that the Stalinists, with their plan, completely erased all difference in principle between them and fascism with regard to the imperialist expansion of Italian capitalism. The Stalinist plan did not envisage fighting Italian imperialism, but merely strove to offer it the best means of escaping from its impasse. The “struggle” between the Stalinists and Mussolini was henceforth one to determine which of the two was to be the most perspicacious servant of Italian imperialism. Thanks to the Stalinists, the proletariat and the working masses of Italy were no longer called to choose between their enslavement under imperialism and their liberation, as well as the liberation of peoples everywhere, but between two different directions through which the imperialist policy could be assured: expansion toward the southeast, or expansion toward the northeast.

But once again, if one confines the struggle within these limits, the victory of fascism is certain, in the first place because fascism combines at one and the same time the two directions of Italian expansion. For it, the paths toward the southeast and toward the northeast are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other. It grabs to the right and to the left now leaning upon, and now blackmailing in turn the “democracies” and “Hitlerism”. And it is necessary to admit that up to the present the game has succeeded quite well. This was possible because the Stalinist “plan” bound the proletariat and the working masses of Italy socially, politically and morally to Italian imperialism. If “our government” (the fascist government headed by Mussolini!) is called upon to defend its “just” and “honest” interests in any place whatever, it is necessary to support it, not to fight against it.

Moreover, if expansion beyond the Adriatic is “just” and “honest” because it is in opposition to Germany (which has no colonies), why would expansion toward the Mediterranean and Africa be dishonest and unjust? Because possibly it comes into conflict with Great Britain and France? But what Italian cafone would be sufficiently naive to admit this? Finally, confined to these limitations, the “struggle” will always end with the victory of fascism, for any real mobilization of the masses against it would be impossible. In fact, the masses will never understand the need for an insurrection which has as its aim not the overthrow of their exploiters, but rather to force the exploiters to feed from the manger on the left rather than from the manger on the right. They will understand the need still less if the “premium” of the insurrection is to be a reinforcement of the imperialist yoke around their necks.

The one who gains in all of this once again is Mussolini.

* * *

“Brothers in Black Shirts”

At the end of the Abyssinian war, there came out of Moscow, the philosophy that it was better to let the building burn in the desert (the building was Abyssinia) than to risk setting Europe on fire. The Italian Stalinists, always keen to sense the direction from which the wind is blowing, understood that truly the time of half-measures had passed. At last, one could speak out loudly and clearly. The ex-mice of the censorship service (that is the espionage service against revolutionary and discontented soldiers) during the world war; the ex-traffickers of the sacristy, the ex-subordinates of Mussolini in his treason and in his interventionism, all the band of cowards and slaves who actually “direct” the so-called Communist Party of Italy, could finally breathe freely. The insurmountable contradiction between the remains of the Bolshevik traditions which still lived in the party and their true nature, those who were prepared to sup royally at all tables, was henceforth at an end.

It was a question, naturally, always of peace, democracy, and liberty. Before these three deities, any fresh hesitation would be a crime. It is true that heretofore the monarchy, the Vatican, the big bourgeoisie of the cities and the fields had turned a deaf ear. But Mussolini would certainly understand. Mussolini, said these former companions in treason, he is not a fossil. An adventurer, perhaps, but a man of politics. A realist There is nothing to exclude the possibility that one can go along a short distance together with him, and who knows, with this Mussolini, there is really nothing to prevent us from travelling the entire road in each other’s company. Such was the “plan”!

It was necessary to divert fascist Italy from its friendship with Hitler and lead it to struggle on behalf of the “democracies”! To do this, “our brothers in black shirts” can give us the greatest possible support. The enemy is no longer fascism, it is Hitlerism. Enough, then, of anti-fascism. In Italy there are no longer fascists and anti-fascists, just as in Stalinist documents there are no longer proletarians, bourgeoisie, poor peasants, rich peasants, exploited and exploiters. In Italy, there are now only Italians and anti-Italians. But these latter are hidden elsewhere than among the fascists. So, gentlemen, one liquidates. The “Proletarian Anti-Fascist Committees” are liquidated; the “anti-fascist demagogy” is liquidated; the very word “anti-fascist” is liquidated. The unfortunate militants of the rank and file who do not know what is happening and who continue to declare themselves anti-fascists have their ears pulled, and if they still do not understand, are quickly denounced as anti-Italians, agents of Hitler, spies of the Gestapo, etc., etc. ... “All Italians are brothers,” proclaim the Stalinists, except, naturally the “Trotskyists” who want to fight against our “brothers in black shirts”, in order to play the game of Hitler whose agents they are!

The Stalinist press daily discovers new marvels in Italy. Italy becomes once again “the most beautiful garden in the world”. The fascist trade unions are no longer hells in which the proletariat is muzzled and bound. That is a “Trotskyist calumny”. The fascist syndicates are the “syndicates of Italian workers”. The fascist institutions are transformed as if by magic into institutions of the Italian people. Among the sons of the same country there did exist, unfortunately, misunderstandings and suspicions. Some were called fascists, the other anti-fascists. Lack of understanding was common to both, certainly, but especially to the anti-fascists who did not appreciate as they should the great love of their “black-shirted brothers” for Italy. If the “brothers in black shirts” also sinned, it was because of an excess of love. So, one must excuse them. In any event, all that was naught but a sad nightmare of the past. Henceforth, general celebration, general embracing. No more anti-fascist insignia which would be provocations against “our brothers”. “Our brothers”, besides, will readily understand that their insignia also no longer serve any purpose. All sons of the same fatherland, we will have but a single flag, the tricolor. Forward, against Hitler ...

Scratching his head, the rank and file militant asked: What? What? The members of the fascist gangs who killed, violated, mutilated members of my own family? “Brothers in black shirts,” replied the bureaucrats. The cops who in the cities and villages still swing their cudgels and create a reign of terror? “Brothers in black shirts.” The fascist bureaucrats who in the factories, in the trade unions, everywhere spy on the workers and turn them over to the vengeance of the employers and the police? “Brothers in black shirts.” The basses of the large fascist corporations, the Rossoni, the Ciardi and Co.? “Brothers in black shirts.” But finally, demands the poor rank-and-filer, completely dumbfounded by surprise at having so many unsuspected brothers: and Mussolini? “Brother, brother in black shirt,” reply imperturbably the Stalinist bureaucrats. We are not anti-fascists, therefore Mussolini also is our brother.

And so that this might be perfectly clear, the Stalinist press published an official declaration of the party in which the Stalinists asserted they were ready to march “hand in hand with all fascists, whatever degree they represented in the hierarchy of the party of the state.” The invitation to the “black-shirted brother”, Mussolini, could not have been more pointed. And all this orgy, all this debauchery of Stalinist fraternization with the fascists, including Mussolini, took place at the end of and after the Abyssinian war, when its disastrous consequences were making themselves felt most widely and when it was still possible to rouse the masses against the regime.

Once again the Stalinists served “honorably” their fascist brothers.

To the repeated advances made to him, Mussolini responded by intervention in Spain and by consolidation of the Rome-Berlin axis. These two facts considerably cooled the ardor of the philo-fascists, the Stalinist bureaucrats. Cooled their ardor, but did not extinguish it. One example suffices to prove this. At the time of the occupation of Austria by the Nazis, the Stalinist press unleashed an unbridled campaign against Mussolini as responsible for having placed “our dear Italy on its knees before Hitler”. Mussolini is once again, then, in the culprit’s seat. From a “brother” he has been transformed into an “evil soul”. But the hand still remains outstretched toward the fascists. One could go so far as to say that the resurrection of a part of the “antifascist” phraseology only served to cover up a policy even more “fraternal” than ever towards the fascists.

As a matter of fact, if up to yesterday the Rome-Berlin axis was only a perspective which it was necessary to prevent at any price, today it has become a reality. The conclusion which the Stalinists drew from this was that now there was once again on the order of the day in Italy the problem of the “struggle” – for national independence. And this national independence could be assured not by the outbreak of a civil war against the direct exploiters of the Italian people, but by the union of all classes against the “tedeschi” (in the Stalinist press the term “tedeschi” has the same connotation of contempt as the word “boche” for the French). That is why the leit motiv of all the Stalinist press is as follows: The Italian people are under the heel of Hitler and the “tedeschi”. Our journalists (that is, the fascist journalists) are obliged to write according to the dictates of the “tedeschi” agents. Italy has been invaded by the “tedeschi” who in the factories, the offices, editorial rooms, everywhere, exercise their terror against the Italian people. It is not the fascists and the Italian capitalists who oppress the Italian workers, but the “tedeschi”. Mussolini and a few other fascist leaders, as well as a half dozen or so of the influential members of trusts are obviously the filthy servants of Germany. They must be chased out. But Italian fascism, as such, is free of guilt. The fire must be concentrated against the Germans, against the “tedeschi”. War, then, against the “Tedeschi”. Bastane tedesco I’ltalia non doma (The club of the boche shall not dominate Italy) – this is the refrain the most cherished by the Stalinists. And their fascist chauvinism goes even farther. It surpasses, probably all that the Hitler press resorted to against the Jews.

As proof we need but one example of correspondence “coming from Italy”, published in the Stalinist organ appearing in the Italian language in Paris. In this correspondence, from a “well-known literary personage, a prominent Italian anti-fascist”, according to the journal, the German people (not the Hitlerites, but all the German people) were insulted outrageously. The entire content of the article had as its aim to show that the “tedeschi” (the boches) are nothing but a pack of swine, and for the good of humanity they must be treated like swine – have their throats slit open with a knife. Publication of this truly vile article aroused a storm of protests from Italian emigres, and this forced the editors of the journal, after the article had been published and given glaring publicity, to express hypocritical reservations in three lines!

It is against the “Trotskyists”, however, that the Stalinist hate manifests itself without cease. In this there is no interruption, no “pause”. Fascists can become “brothers”, Hitlerites can be transformed into “companions”, but the Trotskyists always remain the number one enemy of the Stalinist bureaucrats. In no press in the world, except that in the USSR, is the “anti-Trotskyist folklore” as abundant and as varied as in that of the Italian bureaucrats. It is not that the Italians cudgel their brains more than their confreres in other countries to find something original – far from it – but merely that they copy the Russian press with greater abandon. They are hard put to it, to justify their beefsteaks.

For some time, however, it has been a question of something other than folklore. A whole series of facts and symptoms demonstrate that the Italian Stalinists are planning to go much farther. Already the suppression of the anarchist leader Berneri (he, too, is a “Trotskyist”) and of his comrade Barbieri at Barcelona show the mark of origin. It is among the Italian Stalinists that the electors and the executors of these cowardly assassinations are to be found. The reaction of the Stalinist press to a statement which appeared in the socialist journal Nuovo Aventi on the death of Berneri is a confession. But there is more. The “Trotskyists” who are in the prisons and Mussolini’s islands of deportation in Italy are constantly the victims of aggressions during the day and during the night of the Stalinist “mafia” which has been constituted in those places. Those who are at liberty are openly pointed out by the Stalinist press to the fascist Ovra, to which they communicate the names of the Trotskyists and the addresses at which they may be found. The “Trotskyist” Damen (he was in reality a Bordigist), veteran of Italian prisons because of his anti-fascist activities, was again arrested several months ago at Milan following minutely-detailed denunciations of the Stalinist informers. In emigration, whenever occasion presents itself, “Trotskyists” are denounced, their last names given, their first names, and their pseudonyms, so as to bring about their expulsion at the hands of the police. Just recently, following an incident of a political nature which occurred in the Italian section of the League for the Rights of Man in Paris, the Stalinist press distinguished itself in this vile work of acting as police spies. Entire lists of the names and first names of militants returning from the Spanish trenches were published in the Stalinist press. These militants, in general, find themselves in France without papers and passports, and the police track them down so as to throw them out of the country. The publication of the names and first names of these individuals has as its aim to force them to “be peaceful” and not to denounce the beastliness perpetrated by the Stalinist bureaucrats in Spain against the revolutionaries. As a follow up, the “Trotskyists” receive anonymous threatening letters, with a deathshead drawn in the center. This is the same procedure formerly used by the “brothers in black shirts” in Italy to terrorize proletarian militants and especially their families. Others are “charitably” warned not to return late at night if they want to avoid surprises. Others still find themselves spied upon by suspicious looking individuals. All this shows that the Stalinist Ovra exists also on Italian soil, that it is at work preparing itself for redoubled blows.

Why is all this done? Aside from the low, but nevertheless very real considerations of beefsteak and the general tasks which are assigned to them by the GPU, aside also from motives of a personal order, that is a biography filled with betrayals and cowardice of some of the bosses who hold, or give the appearance of holding, the reins of the Italian Stalinist Party, the underlying causes of the particular hate of the Italian bureaucrats for the “Trotskyists” are exposed above.

Our Italian comrades, to the greatest extent possible within the extremely limited means at their disposal, denounce this incoherent and traitorous policy. The Italian workers, especially those who return from the trenches in Spain and from the USSR, turn their backs on these miserable charlatans who play at juggling with their “fascist brothers” and who in all important problems have played and continue to play the game of Mussolini. In Italy, in the prisons and in the isles of deportation, if one excepts a few functionaries preoccupied with the support of their families and with their future positions, the revolt is general against those who have been the shameless profiteers of their sacrifices. The revolt is sufficient so that these bureaucrats with the souls of slaves vow their eternal hatred of the “Trotskyists”. This does not, however, prevent our Italian comrades from accomplishing their revolutionary work with firmness and with success.

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