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Emanuel Garrett

Men and Women of Labor

Out of the Past

Giacomo Matteotti
(1885–Murdered, June 10, 1924)

(13 June 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 41, 13 June 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Giacomo Matteotti, son of a well-to-do farmer and expert in criminal law, rose to speak in the Italian Chamber of Deputies on May 30, 1924. Leader of the small, and dwindling, parliamentary opposition, he rose to present an indictment of the fascist regime, to read a list of its crimes, to denounce its electoral frauds.

The Fascist Dogs Strike

Mussolini sat in the chair writhing. Several times he interrupted, and growled ominously as Matteotti sent thrusts of irony and wit in reply. Matteotti charged Mussolini with using public funds for the benefit of big business – to refloat a near-bankrupt enterprise, to buy 18,000 shares of Mineral Oil Refinery, etc. Matteotti charged that Mussolini had used armed militiamen in the elections.

The session over, a few of Matteotti’s friends collected, around him to congratulate him on his speech. (There weren’t many of these. A good part of the “socialists” had long since turned tail.) Matteotti told them: “And now my colleagues, you may prepare my funeral oration for the Chamber.”

Mussolini made it clear that he was going to take some kind of action. One of his close henchmen remarked that “if they (the socialists) knew what was going on in Mussolini’s head at such times, they would lay low.” On June 1, Popolo d’ltalia, edited by Mussolini’s brother, referred to the “monstrously provocative” speech made the day before which deserved “something concrete” in reply.

On June 10, Matteotti, leaving his home, was whisked into a waiting car by a band of men. One of these men later reported Matteotti’s last words: “You will not kill the ideal. My children will be proud of their father. The workers will bless my dead body.”

Three months later that body which workers have truly come to revere as the embodiment of unrelenting anti-fascism, was found in a woods near Rome. There were thirty-six stab wounds in the chest. The rasp was still embedded in the body.

By chance, the license number of the kidnap car had been noted by passers-by. A cry went up for the apprehension of the criminals. Testimony piled up pointing the finger of responsibility directly at Mussolini. It was learned that the car had been used by one Dumini, a despicable criminal and hanger-on of the fascisti who had been hired for the job. Pinzi, Under-Secretary for the Home Office, afraid he was to be made the scape-goat for the murder, composed a testament, and sent copies to several people. One of these was sent to a socialist deputy who, however waited months before exposing the facts. Filippelli, arrested as a scapegoat on June 16 by order of Mussolini, drew up a memorandum in which the details of the abduction and murder were listed. Rossi, another Fascist, wrote a letter giving the facts of the case after he was arrested on June 14 as a sop to the enraged populace.

Mussolini himself referred to the murder as a blunder. But he proceeded to use it as an opportunity to consolidate his regime by force of terror.

Mass resentment was at a high pitch both inside and outside Italy. Mussolini ordered a mock trial. All the criminals were known. Dumini laughed at the trial. He testified that, “We were riding along peaceably when suddenly Matteotti developed tuberculosis and died of a hemorrhage.” A verdict was brought in: unintentional homicide, nobody guilty.

Failure of Socialist Policy

Matteotti had sacrificed his life heroically. But in doing so he also proved the inadequacy of personal honesty and valor where sound revolutionary politics is lacking. Matteotti had been consistently loyal to his own ideal. Something of an authority on criminal law, he had given up his profession to engage in political work. Elected as a deputy, he opposed Italy’s entrance into the World War. Elected again in 1919, and in 1924, he achieved prominence as an anti-fascist, and as the leader of the parliamentary opposition. Therein lay his great weakness: mere parliamentary opposition. A member of the reformist, moderate wing of the Socialist Party, he could offer only his own integrity in the anti-fascist struggle.

The socialists had facilitated the coming to power of Mussolini. They had not held the factories when these were spontaneously seized by the workers. With the entire nation, except for the bankers and bosses, earnestly anti-fascist, Mussolini nevertheless rode into power over the hesitant, uncertain bodies of the socialists. Most of the socialists promptly sought cover as the castor-oil, murder squads of the fascist banditti took possession of the country.

Some, like Matteotti, continued their opposition with appeals to law, justice and humanity. But it didn’t work. All these were on the side of the socialists. But they lacked the will to go out and rally the masses for revolutionary action to expropriate the factories, establish a workers government.

The masses looked up to Matteotti because be had stood his ground against fascism. His death came near to kindling the fire of revolution. There was however no revolutionary party to guide the flame.

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Last updated: 17 January 2016