REPORT ON FASCISM
by the Communist Party of Italy delegate
The Origin of the
The Programme of Fascism
Chairman: Comrade Kolaroff.
Contents - Report on Fascism - Comrade Bordiga. Discussion on Report. The Capitalist Offensive.
Speakers: Bordiga, Smeral, Pullman, Urbans.
The session opened at 12.30pm.
Kolaroff: The session is now open. I call on comrade Bordiga
to report on the question of Fascism.
Bordiga: Dear comrades, I regret that the present extraordinary
conditions of communications between the delegation and the Party will
not permit me to avail myself of all the documents upon this question.
A report was written on the subject by our Comrade Togliatti, but I have not had an opportunity of seeing it. It has not yet arrived, I would advise the comrades who desire to obtain exact information on the subject to read that report when it arrives, for as soon as it is received it will be translated and distributed here.
However, last night I was able to get additional information, as the special emissary of our Party has arrived in Moscow and furnished me with more detailed information on the impressions of our comrades in Italy in connection with the latest fascist events, and with those I will deal in the closing part of my report.
I will deal with the question raised by comrade Radek yesterday as to the attitude of the Communist Party towards Fascism.
Our comrade criticised the attitude of our Party on the question of Fascism, which is the dominant political question in Italy. He criticised our point of view – our alleged point of view – which is supposed to consist of a desire to have a small party and to limit the consideration of all questions solely to the aspect of Party organisation and their immediate importance, without going any farther into the larger questions at issue.
I will try to be brief, on account of the time limit, with these few remarks I will start my report.
The Origin of the Fascist Movement
As regards the origins of the Fascist movement, in what we might call the direct and external sense, it can be traced back to 1914-1915, namely to the period which preceded Italy’s intervention in the world war. In fact its founding groups, which espoused a range of political tendencies, were precisely the ones which supported this intervention. There was a group on the right, led by Salandra and the big industrialists, which had vested interests in war, and which before clamouring for intervention on the side of the Entente had avidly supported a war against it. Then there were the tendencies of the left wing bourgeoisie: the Italian radicals, i.e., the democrats of the left and the republicans, traditionally in favour of liberating Trieste and Trent. And finally, within the interventionist movement, there were certain elements of the proletarian movement too, namely the revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists. And amongst the latter groups we find (a matter of one individual, true, but nevertheless a very important one) the leader of the left-wing of the socialist party and director of Avanti!: Mussolini.
It may be stated, as a rough approximation, that the Centre groups did not participate in the formation of the Fascist movement but kept within the framework of traditional bourgeois politics. Remaining in the Fasci di Combattimento movement were those of the extreme Right and those of the extreme Left, i.e. ex-anarchists, ex-syndicalists and former revolutionary syndicalists.
These political groups, which in May 1915 scored a major victory by forcing Italy into the war against the will of the majority of the country and even of parliament (which was unable to resist a sudden coup de main) saw their influence decline after the war, and indeed this had been noticeable even during the conflict itself.
They had presented the war as a very easy enterprise, and when the war became prolonged they lost the popularity, which had only ever been minimal in any case. The end of the war therefore marked the reduction of their influence to a minimum.
Between the end of 1918 and the first half of 1920, which was a period of demobilization and slump, this political tendency was of little consequence due to the general malcontent provoked by the aftermath of the war. Nevertheless, it is easy to establish the political and organic connection between this movement, seemingly so insignificant then, and the formidable movement confronting us today.
The Fasci di Combattimento never ceased to exist. Mussolini remained the leader of the Fascist movement, and their paper Il Popolo d’Italia continued to be published. Despite their daily newspaper and their political chief being based in Milan, the Fascists were completely defeated in Milan in the October 1919 elections. Having obtained a ridiculously low number of votes they nevertheless continued their activities.
After the war, the revolutionary socialist current within the proletariat had been considerably strengthened by the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses, but it had failed to exploit this favourable situation. It suffered a further attenuation because all the objective and psychological factors which favoured a strengthening of revolutionary organization found no party capable of building on them to create a permanent and stable organization. I do not assert – as Comrade Zinoviev has accused me of saying – that the Socialist Party could have brought about the revolution in Italy, but at least it could have provided the revolutionary forces of the working masses with a sound organisation. It proved unequal to the task. Hence, even though it was always opposed to the war, we have now seen the popularity the Socialist tendency used to enjoy in Italy drop away.
To the extent that the Socialist movement failed to take advantage of the social crisis in Italy and committed one error after another, the opposite movement – Fascism – started growing. Fascism benefited above all from the looming economic crisis which was starting to exert its influence within the proletariat’s trade union organization. In addition, during a particularly difficult period, Fascism found support in the D’Annunzio expedition to Fiume. It is from the Fiume expedition that Fascism derived a certain moral strength as well as the birth of its organization and its armed forces; even though the D’Annunzio movement and the Fascist movement were not identical.
We have spoken of the stance of the proletarian socialist movement: the International has repeatedly criticized its mistakes. The consequence of these mistakes has been a complete change in the mentality of the bourgeoisie and the other classes. The proletariat became disorganized and demoralized. Having seen victory slip though its fingers, it has undergone a complete change of heart. One could say that in 1919, and during the first half of 1920, the Italian bourgeoisie had almost become resigned to the idea of having to see out the triumph of the revolution. The middle class and the petty bourgeoisie were ready to play a passive role, not in the wake of the big bourgeoisie, but in the wake of the proletariat which was on the road to victory. They have now undergone a complete change of heart as well. Instead of submitting to a victory of the proletariat, we see the bourgeoisie organizing to defend itself. The middle class became discontented when it saw the Socialist Party was incapable of organizing in such a way as to gain the upper hand; and having lost confidence in the proletarian movement it turned to the opposition. It was then that the capitalist offensive of the bourgeoisie started. Basically it exploited the current state of mind of the middle class. Fascism, by reason of its extremely heterogeneous character, offered a solution to the problem of how to mobilize the bourgeoisie behind the capitalist offensive.
The Italian case is a classic example of the capitalist offensive. It represents, as Comrade Radek told us yesterday from this platform, a complex phenomenon, which should be considered not only from the standpoint of reduced wages and longer hours, but also from the general standpoint of political and military action of the bourgeoisie against the working class.
In Italy, during the period when Fascism was evolving, we saw every manifestation of the capitalist offensive. If we want to consider the capitalist offensive in its entirety, we must examine the situation under its various aspects, in the industrial as well as in the agrarian field.
In the industrial field the capitalist offensive directly exploits the effects of the economic crisis. The crisis starts; there is unemployment. Some of the workers have to be sacked, and the employers take advantage of the situation by kicking the union leaders and the more extreme elements out of the factories. The industrial crisis provided the employers with a good pretext for cutting wages and revoking the disciplinary and moral concessions which the factory workers had previously forced them to make. At the beginning of this crisis in Italy the General Confederation of Industry was formed, an association of the employing class which takes the lead in the fight against the workers and subjects each individual industrial sector to its discipline.
In the big cities, you can’t launch an offensive against the working class by using violent means from the start. Urban workers generally form a substantial mass. They can easily gather in large numbers and put up serious resistance. There has been a tendency therefore to provoke the proletariat into struggles of an essentially trade-union character; ones they usually lost due to the economic crisis being in its most acute stage and unemployment still on the up. The only way the economic struggles in the industrial sphere could be led to a victorious conclusion was by transfering the activity in the trade union field over to the revolutionary domain, converting it into the dictatorship of a genuinely communist political party. But the Socialist Party was nothing of the sort. At the decisive moment it proved incapable of giving a revolutionary lead to the action of the Italian proletariat. The period of great successes in the Italian trade-union organisation’s fight for the amelioration of the workers’ conditions gave place to a new period in which strikes became defensive strikes on the part of the working class, and defeats became the order of the day.
Since, within the revolutionary movement in Italy, the agrarian classes (mainly the agricultural labourers, but including those strata which are not completely proletarianised) are very important, the ruling classes were compelled to seek a way of combating the influence acquired by the Red organisations in the rural districts. Throughout a substantial part of Italy, in particular in the most important agricultural districts of the Po valley, a state of affairs prevailed which closely resembled a local dictatorship of the proletariat, or of groups of agricultural labourers at any rate. The communes, captured by the Socialist Party at the end of 1920, pursued a policy of imposing local taxes on the agrarian bourgeoisie and the middle classes. We had flourishing trade unions, important co-operative organisations and numerous sections of the Socialist Party. And, even where the movement was in the hands of reformists, the working class movement in the rural districts adopted a decidedly revolutionary stance. The employers were even forced to deposit sums of money as a kind of guarantee that they would carry out agreements imposed on them by the trade union struggle. Thus a situation arose in which the agricultural bourgeoisie could no longer live on their estates and had to seek refuge in the cities.
But the Italian socialists committed a number of blunders, particularly as regards the matter of the occupation of vacated lands and of the tendency of the small tenant farmers, after the war, to acquire land in order to become petty proprietors. The reformist organisations compelled these small farmers to remain, so to speak, the serfs of the agricultural labourers’ movement; in such circumstances the Fascist movement found it could draw on significant support.
In agriculture there was no crisis linked to widespread unemployment such as to allow the landed proprietors, on the terrain of basic trade-union struggles, to wage a successful counter offensive. It was here therefore that the Fascists began to introduce their methods of physical violence, of armed brute force, drawing support from the rural proprietor class and exploiting the discontent generated among the agricultural middle classes by the blunders of the Socialist Party and the reformist organisations. Fascism benefited also from the general situation and from a growing malaise and discontent which was spreading through all layers of the petty-bourgeois, affecting small shopkeepers, petty proprietors and the discharged soldiers and ex-officers who were disappointed in their lot following the glories of war. All these elements were grist to the mill, and once organised into military formations, the movement for the destruction of the Red organisations in the rural districts of Italy could get underway.
The methods employed by Fascism are rather peculiar. Having assembled all those demobilised elements which had failed to find a place for themselves in post-war society, it made full use of their military experience, and started to form its military organisations not in the big industrial cities, but in those cities which may be considered as the capitals of Italian agricultural regions, such as Bologna and Florence. And it would be supported in this end (as we will see) by the State authorities. The Fascists possess arms, means of transportation, enjoy immunity of the law, and take advantage of these favourable conditions even where they are not yet as numerous as their revolutionary adversaries.
The mode of action for their "punitive expeditions" is somewhat as follows. They invade some small place in the country, destroy the headquarters of the proletarian organisations, force the municipal council to resign at the point of a bayonet, and assault or murder those who oppose them, or at best force them to quit the district. The local workers are powerless to resist such a concentration of armed forces backed by the police. The local Fascist groups, which previously didn’t dare to take on the proletarian forces, now have the upper hand because the local workers and peasants have been terrorised, and are afraid of taking any action for fear the Fascist expedition might return in even greater numbers.
Fascism thus proceeds to the conquest of a dominant position in Italian politics in a sort of territorial campaign, the kind which lends itself very well to being traced out on a map. The Fascist campaign got underway in Bologna, the city where in September-October 1922 a socialist administration had been installed and where there had been a consequent mobilisation of the red forces. Several incidents took place: the meeting of the municipal council was broken up by external provocation. Shots were fired at the benches occupied by the bourgeois minority, probably by agents-provocateurs. These events led to the Fascists’ first big coup de main. From this point militant reaction spread throughout the country, putting the torch to proletarian clubs and maltreating their leaders. With the full backing of the police and the authorities they took the city. The terror started at Bologna on the historic date of November 21, 1920, when the Municipal Council of Bologna was prevented by violence from assuming its powers.
From Bologna Fascism followed a route which we won’t outline in detail here; suffice to say that geographically it went in two directions, on the one hand towards the industrial triangle of the North-West, viz. Milan, Turin and Genoa, and on the other, towards Tuscany and the centre of Italy, in order to encircle and lay siege to the Capital. It was clear from the outset that the South of Italy was no more capable of giving birth to a Fascist movement than to a great socialist movement. Fascism is so little a movement of the backward part of the bourgeoisie that it appeared first of all not in Southern Italy, but rather in those districts where the proletarian movement was more developed and the class struggle more in evidence.
On the basis of these facts, how are we to interpret the Fascist movement? Is it purely an agrarian movement? This was not at all what we meant when we said the movement originated in the rural districts. Fascism cannot be considered as the independent movement of a particular part of the bourgeoisie, as the organisation of the agrarian interest in opposition to the industrial capitalists. And what is more, it was in the cities that Fascism formed its political and military organisation, even in those provinces where it confined its violent actions to the rural districts.
We have seen that after its participation in the 1921 elections the Fascists formed a parliamentary group, but this did not prevent an agrarian party forming independently of the Fascists. During successive events, we have seen the industrial employers supporting the Fascists. A decisive factor in the new situation has been the latest declaration of the General Confederation of Industry, which pronounced in favour of entrusting the formation of a new Cabinet to Mussolini. But a more striking phenomenon in this respect is the appearance of Fascist syndicalism. As already mentioned, the Fascists have taken advantage of the fact that the socialists never had an agrarian policy of its own, and that certain elements in the countryside, those which are not purely proletarian, have interests opposed to those of the socialists. Fascism, although an armed movement used to employing the most brutal forms of violence, knew how to use such methods alongside the most cynical methods of demagoguery, and to create class organisations among the peasants, and even among the agricultural labourers. In a certain sense it even opposed the landlords. There are examples of trade union struggles led by Fascists in which the methods used show marked similarities to those employed by the Red organisations. We cannot consider this Fascist syndicalism, which works through the use of force and terror, as a form of anti-capitalist struggle, but neither can we, on the other hand, draw the conclusion that Fascism is specifically a movement of the agricultural employers.
In reality, Fascism is a great unitary movement of the dominant class, capable of putting at its disposal any and all means, and of subjugating every partial and local interest of the various employers, in agriculture and in industry, in pursuit of its wider goals.
The proletariat has not properly understood the necessity of joining together in a single unitary organisation in order to take power and the need to sacrifice the immediate interests of this or that particular group in pursuit of this aim; it wasn’t able to resolve this problem when the moment was favourable. The Italian bourgeoisie profited from this circumstance by attempting to do the same thing on behalf of its own class. The dominant class constructed an organisation which would defend its power, which would be completely under its control and which would therefore follow a unitary plan of capitalist, anti-proletarian offensive.
Fascism created a trade union organisation. Why? In order to take part in the class struggle? Never! The watchword of the trade-union movement Fascism created may be summed up as follows: all economic interest groups have the right to organise; one can form associations of workers, peasants, business men, capitalists, land owners, etc; all can organise on the same principle: that trade-union activity of all organisations should be subordinate to the national interest, national production, national prestige, etc. This is nothing but class collaboration, it is not class struggle. All interests are directed towards a self-styled national unity. This national unity is nothing more than the counter revolutionary conservation of the bourgeois state and its institutions.
We believe that the genesis of Fascism can be attributed to three main factors: the State, the capitalist class, and the middle class. Foremost amongst these is the State. In Italy the State apparatus has had an important role in the foundation of Fascism. Reports about successive government crises in Italy have led to the idea that the Italian capitalist class is in possession of a State apparatus so unstable that a simple coup de main would be enough to overthrow it. That is not the case. The fact that the Italian bourgeoisie was able to form the Fascist organisation was a measure of just how consolidated its State apparatus was.
In the period immediately after the war, the Italian State underwent a crisis, whose manifest cause was demobilisation; all those who had taken part in the war were suddenly thrown onto the Labour market. At this critical point the State machine, which had previously been organised to its highest pitch to resist the foreign enemy, had to suddenly transform itself into an apparatus to defend capitalist interests against internal revolution. It was a huge problem for the bourgeoisie; a problem which could be resolved neither in a technical or a military manner but had to be resolved by political means. We see the birth of the radical governments of the post-war period: the rise to power of Nitti and Giolitti.
It was actually the policies of these two politicians which made the subsequent victory of Fascism inevitable. First of all it was necessary to make concessions to the working class; precisely at the moment the State mechanism needed to be consolidated, Fascism appeared on the scene; and it was pure demagoguery when the latter accused the post-war governments of backing down to the revolutionaries. As a matter of fact, the Fascist victory was possible precisely because of the first post-war ministries. Nitti and Giolitti made a few concessions to the working class. Certain demands of the Socialist Party – demobilisation, a democratic regime and amnesty for deserters – were acceded to. These various concessions were made in order to gain time to re-establish the State apparatus on a solid footing. It was Nitti who formed the Guardia Regia, the "Royal Guard", an organisation not so much of the police type but rather of a new military type. One of the biggest mistakes made by the reformists was not considering this a fundamental question; even though it could have been dealt with purely as a constitutional issue, as a protest against the fact that the State was forming a second army. The socialists failed to grasp this point, seeing in Nitti a man they might well collaborate within a Left Government. This was yet more evidence of this Party’s incapacity to see the way Italian politics was going.
Giolitti completed the work Nitti started. It was a member of Giolitti’s cabinet, Bonomi the Minister of War, who fostered the beginnings of Fascism by placing demobilised officers at the disposal of the nascent movement; officers who although they had re-entered civilian life were still in receipt of a large part of their army salaries. The State machine was placed at the disposal of the Fascisti in as large a measure as possible, and furnished all necessary material for the creation of an army.
At the time of the occupations, the Giolitti government was very well aware that the armed proletariat had taken control of the factories and that the agricultural proletariat, under the impulse of its revolutionary offensive, was well on its way to taking possession of the land. It realised that accepting battle, before the counter-revolutionary forces were ready, would be a big mistake. As the government prepared the reactionary forces destined one day to destroy the proletarian movement, they knew they could utilise the manoeuvring of the treacherous leaders of the General Federation of Labour (who were then members of the Socialist Party). By conceding the law on Workers’ Control – which has never been voted on, let alone applied – the Government was able to save the bourgeois State.
The proletariat had seized the workshops and the landed estates, but the Socialist Party once again failed to secure united action by the industrial and agricultural workers. And it is precisely this inability to secure united action which enabled the master class to achieve counter revolutionary unity, and so defeat on the one hand the industrial workers, and on the other the agricultural workers. As we can see, the State has played the leading role in the development of the Fascist Movement.
After the Nitti, Giolitti and Bonomi governments there came the Facta Cabinet. Its job was to disguise the fact that Fascism had been allowed complete freedom of action during its territorial advance. During the strike in August 1922, bitter struggles erupted between workers and the Fascisti, with the latter openly supported by the government. We can cite the example of Bari, where the workers remained undefeated after an entire week of fighting, and where barricaded inside their houses within the old city they put up an armed defence, despite the full deployment of Fascist forces. The Fascisti had to beat a retreat, leaving several casualties behind. And what did the Facta government do? During the night they had the old town surrounded with thousands of soldiers, hundreds of Carabinieri and Royal Guards, and ordered a siege. From the harbour, a torpedo boat shelled the houses; machine guns, armoured cars and rifles went into action. The workers, surprised in their sleep, were defeated; the Camera del Lavoro, the Chamber of Labour, was occupied. It was the same throughout the country. Wherever Fascism had been beaten back by the workers, the power of the State intervened; workers who resisted were shot down; workers who were guilty of nothing but self-defence were arrested and sentenced, whereas the Fascists, who were generally known to have committed innumerable crimes, were systematically acquitted by the magistrates.
Thus, the State is the primary factor. The second factor in the development of Fascism is, as already mentioned, the big bourgeoisie. The capitalists of industry, finance and commerce, and also the large landed proprietors, had an obvious interest in the formation of a combative organisation which would support their attack on the workers.
But the third factor plays a no less important role in the genesis of Fascist power. In order to form an illegal reactionary organisation alongside the State, one has to recruit elements other than those belonging to the highest echelons of the dominant class. Such elements are obtained by turning to those sections of the middle class we’ve already mentioned and by endeavouring to forge alliances with them by defending their interests. This is what Fascism tried to do and, lets admit it, succeeded in doing. They recruited from the strata closest to the proletariat; from amongst those suffering the effects of the war, from the petty bourgeois, the semi-bourgeois, shop-keepers and tradesmen, and above all from intellectual elements amongst the bourgeois youth, who in adhering to Fascism found the strength to morally redeem themselves, and ’dressed in the toga’ of struggle against the proletariat would end up subscribing to the most fanatical patriotism and imperialism. The latter elements, flocking to Fascism in considerable numbers, would allow it to organise militarily.
These are the three factors which have allowed our adversaries to confront us with a movement which is unequalled in its ferocity and brutality, but which, nevertheless – and we need to recognise this – is well organised and has highly capable political leaders. The Socialist Party never understood the significance of nascent Fascism. Avanti! never understood what the bourgeoisie was planning, or how the criminal errors of the working class leaders would assist those plans. They didn’t even like mentioning Mussolini’s name in case it gave him publicity!
As we can see, Fascism is not a new political doctrine. It does,
however, have a strong political and military organisation, and has a considerable
press conducted with a good deal of journalistic flair and eclecticism.
It has no ideas, and no programme, but now that it has arrived at the helm
of the State, and finds itself confronted by concrete problems, it is forced
to concern itself with organising the Italian economy. And in the
passage from negative to positive activities, despite the strength of their
organisation, they will show their weaknesses.
The Fascist Programme
We have examined the historical and social factors influencing the birth of the Fascist movement. We shall now discuss the Fascist ideology, and the programme used to draw its various adherents toward it.
Our critique leads us to the conclusion that Fascism has added nothing new to the ideology and traditional programme of bourgeois politics. Its superiority and originality consists in its organisation, its discipline and its hierarchy. But despite its exceptional military capabilities, Fascism is still left with a thorny problem it can’t resolve: whilst economic crisis keeps the reasons for a revolutionary upsurge continually to the fore, Fascism is incapable of reorganising the bourgeois economic machine. Fascism, which will never be able to overcome the economic anarchy of the capitalist system, has another historical task which we may define as the struggle against political anarchy, against the anarchy of bourgeois class organisation as a political party. The different strata of the Italian ruling class have always formed political and parliamentary groups which aren’t based on soundly organised parties and which have fought amongst themselves. Under the leadership of career politicians, the competition between these groups around private and local interests has led to all kinds of intrigues in the corridors of parliament. The counter-revolutionary offensive has forced the ruling class, in the realm of social struggle and government policy, to unify its forces. Fascism is the realisation of this. Placing itself above all the traditional bourgeois parties, it is gradually sapping them of their membership, replacing them in their functions and – thanks to the mistakes of the proletarian movement – managing to exploit the political power and human material of the middle classes. But it will never manage to equip itself with a practical ideology, and a programme of social and administrative reforms, which goes beyond traditional bourgeois politics; a politics which has come to nought a thousand times before.
The critical part of Fascist doctrine has no great value. It is anti-socialist and at the same time anti-democratic. As far as anti-socialism is concerned, it is clear that Fascism is the movement of the anti-democratic forces. It is therefore natural that it should declare itself against all socialistic and semi-socialistic tendencies. It is unable, however, to present any new justification of the system of private ownership and seems happy just to trot out the tired old cliché about the failure of communism in Russia. As for democracy, it is supposed to make way for the Fascist State because it failed to combat the revolutionary and anti-national tendencies. But that is just an empty phrase.
Fascism is not a tendency of the Right-wing bourgeoisie, which, basing itself upon the aristocrats, the clergy, and the high civil and military functionaries, wants to replace the democracy of a constitutional monarchy by a monarchic despotism. In reality, Fascism conducts its counter-revolutionary struggle by means of an alliance of all components of the bourgeoisie, and for this reason it is not absolutely necessary for it to destroy democratic institutions. From the Marxian point of view, this fact need by no means be considered paradoxical, as we know well that the democratic system is nothing more than a scaffolding of false guarantees erected in order to hide the domination of the ruling class over the proletariat.
Fascism uses both reactionary violence and those demagogic sophistries by which the liberal bourgeoisie has always deceived the proletariat while assuring the supremacy of capitalist interests. When the Fascisti move from their so-called criticism of liberal Democracy to formulating their positive conception, inspired by patriotic fanaticism and a conception of a historical mission of the people, they are basing it upon a historical myth which is easily exposed, by a genuine social critique of that country of sham victories called ’Italy’. In their methods of influencing the mob, we see nothing more than an imitation of the classic posture of bourgeois democracy: when it is stated that all interests must be subordinated to the higher national interest, this just means that the principal of the collaboration of classes should be supported, whilst in practice it is just a means of protecting bourgeois institutions against the revolutionary attacks of the proletariat. Thus has liberal democracy always proceeded.
The original feature of Fascism resides in its organisation of the bourgeois party of government. Political events in the chambers of the Italian Parliament made it appear that the bourgeois State had plunged into a crisis so severe that one shove would be enough to bring it crashing down. In reality, it was just a crisis in the bourgeois governmental system, brought about by the impotence of the old political groupings and the traditional Italian political leaders, who had failed to conduct an effective counter revolutionary struggle during an acute crisis. Fascism constructed an organ capable of taking on the role of head of the State machine. But when alongside their negative anti-proletarian campaign the Fascisti try to set out a positive programme, and concrete proposals for the re-organisation of the economic life of the country and the administration of the State, all they can do is repeat the banal platitudes of democracy and social-democracy. They have provided us with no evidence of an original and coordinated programme. For example, they have always said the Fascist programme advocates a reduction of the State bureaucracy, which starting with a reduction in the number of ministers then proceeds to extend into all branches of the administration. However, if it is true that Mussolini has renounced the special railway carriage usually allotted to the Premier, he has, nevertheless, increased the number of cabinet ministers and under secretaries in order to create jobs for his cronies.
Fascism, after temporarily flirting with republicanism, has rallied to the most strict and loyalist monarchism; after railing against parliamentary corruption, has now completely accepted conventional parliamentary procedure.
Fascism, in short, has showed so little inclination to embrace the tendencies of pure reaction that it has left plenty of room for trade-unionism. During their Rome congress in 1921, where their attempts at formulating doctrines verged on the ridiculous, they even tried to characterise Fascist trade-unionism as being predominantly a movement of the intellectual categories of workers. The lie to this self-proclaimed theoretical orientation has however been amply provided by harsh reality. Fascism, basing its trade union categories upon the use of physical violence and the "closed shop" (sanctioned by the employers with the object of breaking up the revolutionary trade unions) has not managed to extend its power to those organisations where the technical specialisation of labour is higher. Their methods have met with some success among agricultural workers and certain sections of skilled urban workers, the dock workers for example, but not amongst the more advanced and intelligent sections of the proletariat. It hasn’t even provided a new impulse to the trade union organisation of office workers and artisans. There is no real substance to Fascist syndicalism.
The programme and ideology of Fascism contains a confused mixture of
bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas and demands, and its systematic use
of violence against the proletariat does not prevent it making use of the
opportunist methods used by social democracy. This is shown in the stance
of the Italian reformists whose politics, for a while, appeared to be dominated
by anti-Fascist principles, and by the illusion that a bourgeois-proletarian
coalition government could be formed against the Fascisti, but who today
have rallied behind triumphant Fascism. This convergence is not at all
paradoxical; it is derived from a particular set of circumstances and many
things rendered it highly predictable. For instance, there is the d’Annunzio
movement, which on the one hand is linked to Fascism, but on the other
endeavours to appeal to the working class organisations on the basis of
a programme, deriving from the Fiume Constitution, which claims to
be based on proletarian, and even socialist, foundations.
I would have liked to cover other important points regarding the Fascist phenomenon, but I am running out of time. When the report is discussed other Italian comrades will be able to fill in the gaps. I have intentionally omitted the sentimental side of the question and not referred to the sufferings experienced by the Italian workers and communists because I didn’t feel it was the essential aspect of the question.
I must now turn to the recent events in Italy, a subject about which the Congress expects to be thoroughly informed.
Our delegation left Italy before the recent events took place, and up to now it has not received proper information about them. Last night, a comrade delegated by the Central Committee arrived here and gave us the necessary information. I vouch for the bona fide character of the news which we have received, and I will put it before you.
The Facta Government, as mentioned earlier, enabled the Fascists to carry out their policy on a very large scale. I will give just one example of this: it is a fact that the catholic-peasant Italian Popular Party, which was strongly represented in the successive string of governments around this time, didn’t prevent the Fascists from continuing their campaign against said party’s organisations, members and institutions. The existing government was merely a sham government whose sole activity consisted in supporting the Fascist offensive in its bid to take power, an offensive which we have defined as purely territorial and geographical. In fact the government was preparing the ground for the Fascist coup. However the situation was changing fast. Another ministerial crisis arose. There were calls for Facta’s resignation. The previous elections had brought about a situation in Parliament which made it impossible to secure a working majority using the old methods of the traditional bourgeois parties. In Italy we were accustomed to saying the "powerful Liberal Party" was in power, but in fact it was not a Party in the true sense of the word. It had never existed as an actual Party, it had no party organisation, and was really just a conglomeration of personal cliques, grouped around particular politicians in the North and the South and around factions of the industrial and agricultural bourgeoisie, which were manoeuvred by professional politicians. This loose ensemble of parliamentarians in fact formed the kernel of every parliamentary combination.
Fascism had reached a point where it had to choose between putting an end to this situation, or else experience a very serious internal crisis. The question of organisation also had to be considered. Means had to be found to provide for the needs of the Fascist movement and to keep it financially viable. These means were to a great extent provided by the employing class, and, so it appears, also by foreign governments. France has given money to the Mussolini group. At a secret session of the French Government a budget was discussed which included the considerable sums of money handed over to Mussolini in 1915. Evidence of this, and similar documents, came to the notice of the Socialist Party but they failed to do anything about it, because they’d decided that Mussolini was already done for. The Italian Government has also facilitated the task of the Fascisti by, for example, allowing its troops to use the railways free of charge. Nevertheless, if its leaders had decided not to take power, given the enormous expenses incurred by the Fascist movement, they would have been in a very difficult situation. They couldn’t afford to wait until the next elections in spite of the certainty of success.
The Fascists already have a strong political organisation. Already they have 300,000 members, although they would say that is a low estimate. They could even have won just using democratic means. However they were obliged to accelerate the process, and accelerate it they did. On October 24th a National Fascist Council was held in Naples. We now know that this event, which was actively publicised by the bourgeois press, was merely a manoeuvre to divert attention away from the "Coup d’Etat". At a given moment the members of the congress were told: "Cut short your debates, there are more important things to do, every man to his post"! The Fascist mobilisation was underway. It was October 26th. All was quiet in the Capital. Facta had declared his determination not to resign, or at least not until he had called a cabinet meeting in line with normal procedure. Nevertheless, in spite of this declaration, he would hand in his resignation to the King. Negotiations got underway to form a new Government. The Fascists began their march on Rome, the centre of their activity (they were particularly active in central Italy, especially in Tuscany). They were left to get on with it.
Salandra was charged with forming a new Government but declined due to the attitude of the Fascists. If at this stage the job hadn’t been entrusted to Mussolini, the fascists may well have taken to banditry and gone on a destructive rampage through the towns and rural districts, even if against the wishes of their leaders. Public opinion started to show signs of disquiet. The Facta Government threatened to declare Martial Law. Martial law was duly declared, and for an entire day there was an expectation of a collision between the forces of the State and the Fascist forces. Our comrades remained very sceptical about such a possibility. And in reality the Fascists did not meet with any serious resistance anywhere. And yet certain sectors of the army were inimical to the Fascists: the soldiers were ready to fight them. The majority of the officers however were pro-Fascist.
The King refused to sign the declaration of martial law. This would have been tantamount to accepting the conditions of the Fascists which had been set out in the Popolo D’Italia as follows: "In order to obtain a legal solution, it is only necessary to ask Mussolini to form a new Cabinet. If this is not done, we shall march on Rome".
A few hours after the revoking of the declaration of martial law, it was known Mussolini was on his way to Rome. A military defence of the city had already been got ready, troops had been concentrated in the area; but by now the negotiations were already over. On October 31st the Fascists entered Rome without a shot being fired.
Mussolini then formed a new government the composition of which you already know. Although the Fascist Party only had 35 seats in Parliament, it had an absolute majority in the Government. Mussolini reserved for himself the position of President of the Council, and the portfolios of the Ministry of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs. Other important portfolios were divided among the members of the Fascist Party. But, since a complete break with the traditional parties had not yet occurred, the government included two representatives of Social Democracy, that is, of the bourgeois left, as well as some right-wing liberals and one of Giolitti’s supporters. Representing the monarchy we find General Diaz at the Ministry of war, and Admiral Thaon de Revel at the Admiralty. The popular party, which carries a lot of weight in the Chamber, has shown its readiness to compromise with Mussolini. Under the pretext that the official organs of this Party could not meet in Rome, the responsibility for accepting Mussolini’s offers were deputed to an unofficial assembly composed of some of the Party’s parliamentarians. A few concessions were wrung from Mussolini, and the press of the popular party was able to announce that the new Government hadn’t really changed the way by which the people were represented through the electoral system.
The compromise was even extended to the Social Democrats, and at one point it was thought that Baldesi, the reformist socialist, would also join the Cabinet. With considerable astuteness, Mussolini approached him via one of his lieutenants, and after Baldesi had declared he would be happy to accept the post, Mussolini represented the whole affair as a personal démarche by one of his friends… at which point Baldesi decided not to enter the Cabinet after all. And if Mussolini doesn’t have any representatives of the reformist Confederazione Generale del Lavoro in the Government, it is principally because Right-wing elements in the Cabinet are opposed to it. But now that the CGL has become independent of any revolutionary party, he still thinks that it is necessary to have one of its representatives in his "Grand National Coalition".
In these events we can see a compromise between the traditional political cliques and various sections of the ruling class, i.e., the landed proprietors, and the financial and industrial capitalists. And all of these have been rallied to the new State regime by a movement receiving strong support from the petty bourgeoisie.
As far as we are concerned, Fascism is a way of retaining power by using all means at the disposal of the ruling classes, including even the utilisation of the lessons of the first victorious proletarian revolution, the Russian Revolution. Faced with a severe economic crisis, power can not be maintained by the forces of the State alone. There must also be a united party, a centralised counter-revolutionary organisation. The Fascist Party, in relation to the bourgeoisie, is somewhat like the Russian Communist Party in relation to the proletariat – an organ for the direction and control of the State machine which is solidly organised and disciplined. The Fascist Party in Italy has placed its political agents inside every important branch of the State. It is the bourgeois organ for the control of the State during the period of capitalist decadence. This is, in my opinion, an adequate historical interpretation of Fascism and the recent events in Italy.
The first measures of the new government show that no fundamental changes are going to be made to the traditional institutions. I do not mean, of course, that the present situation favours the proletarian and socialist movement, and yet I do predict that Fascism will end up as liberal and democratic. All that the working class has ever received from Democratic governments are proclamations and promises. For example the Mussolini Government has assured us that it will respect the liberty of the press. It has been careful to add though that the press must be deserving of such liberty. What does this mean? It means that despite the government promising to respect the liberty of the press, it will allow its militarist Fascist organisations, if they feel so inclined, to gag the Communist newspapers. Indeed, there have already been a few cases of this happening. Conversely, we must recognise that although the Fascist government has made some concessions to bourgeois liberals, we cannot pin much hope on Mussolini’s assurance that he will transform his military organisations into athletic associations or something similar (we have heard about dozens of Fascists being arrested because they refused to obey the demobilisation order issued by Mussolini).
What has been the effect of these events upon the proletariat? It has found itself in the position of playing no important role in the struggle and has had to behave in an almost passive manner. So far as the Communist Party is concerned, it has always known that the victory of Fascism equates with defeat of the revolutionary movement. Since today it is an indubitable fact that we are incapable of launching an actual offensive against Fascist reaction, the essential question is whether the tactics of the Communist Party have managed to derive the maximum possible gains, from a defensive vantage point, as far as the defence of the Italian proletariat is concerned. If, instead of a compromise between the bourgeoisie and the Fascisti there had been a military conflict, a civil war, the proletariat might have been able to play a certain role, by creating a united front for the general strike and scoring some successes. But as matters stood, the proletariat wasn’t able to take part in the action. However important recent events might be, one mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the change in the political scene has been much less sudden than might appear. There had been a daily accumulation of events leading up to the final coup of the Fascisti. As an example of the battle between the State and the Fascisti if suffices to mention the clash in Cremona, during which there were six casualties. The workers fought only in Rome, where the revolutionary working class forces clashed with the Fascisti and many were wounded. The next day the Royal Guard occupied the working class quarters and deprived it of all means of defence, and thus made it possible for the Fascisti to go in and shoot down the workers in cold blood. Amongst recent struggles in Italy this has been the most bloody.
When the Communist Party proposed a General Strike, the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro disarmed the proletariat by urging them not to follow the dangerous exhortations of the revolutionary groups. At the very moment when our press was prevented from appearing, they spread the rumour that the Communist Party had been dissolved.
The most damaging incident involving our Party in Rome was the invasion by the Fascisti of the editorial offices of Il Comunista. On the 31st October, while the city was occupied by 100,000 Fascisti, the printing plant was entered by a band of Fascisti just as the paper was coming out. All staff were able to evade the Fascisti by leaving through emergency exits with the exception of comrade Togliatti, our editor in chief, who was in his office. The Fascisti entered and seized him. Boldly he declared that he was the chief editor of Il Comunista, and he was stood up against the wall to be shot. As the Fascisti pushed back the crowd in preparation for his execution, they were informed that the other editors were escaping over the roofs. Only when the aggressors set off in pursuit was our comrade able to make his escape. Not that this prevented our comrade, only a few days later, from speaking at a meeting in Turin to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Revolution (Applause).
But this is an isolated case. The organisation of our party is in pretty good shape. If the publication of Il Comunista is suspended it is not because of a governmental order, but because the printers refuse to publish it. We have published it illegally in another printing plant. The difficulties in publishing it were not of a technical nature, but economic.
The building of the Ordine Nuovo in Turin has been seized and the arms kept on the premises for its defence have been confiscated. But the paper is now being published elsewhere. In Trieste the police invaded the printing plant of our paper Il Lavoratore, but this paper is appearing illegally as well. The possibilities of legal work still exist for our Party and our situation is not that tragic. But it is difficult to foresee future developments and it is for this reason that I must express myself in a slightly guarded way with regard to the future situation of our party and the progress of our work. The comrade who has just arrived is in charge of an important local organisation of our party, and he expresses the interesting opinion, which is shared by many militants, that it is easier to work now than previously. I do not want to present this opinion as an established fact, but the comrade who voiced it is a militant working among the masses and his view is not to be taken lightly.
I have already told you that the opposition press spread the false news that our party had dissolved. We have denied this and re-established the truth. Our central political organs, our illegal military centre, our trade union centre, are working flat out, and our links with the rural districts have been almost completely re-established. Our comrades in Italy did not for a single moment lose their heads, and they are now making all necessary arrangements. As for the socialists, the Avanti! offices were destroyed by the Fascisti, and it will be some time before the paper comes out again. The headquarters of the Socialist Party in Rome, along with its archives, were completely destroyed by fire. With regard to the stance of the Maximalists in the polemic between the Communist Party and the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro, we have no statement or document whatsoever. As far as the reformists are concerned, it is clear from the tone of their publications (which continue to be published) that they will ally themselves with the new government.
Regarding the trade union situation, comrade Repossi of our trade union committee thinks it will be possible for this work to continue. This is the latest information we have received, as of November 6th.
I have already talked for quite a while and I won’t touch upon the question of the stance our party has taken over the whole period of the development of Fascism, whilst I reserve my right to do so at some other stage in the Congress. With regard to prospects for the future, we believe that Fascism will have to face the discontent provoked by its governmental policies. But, as we know only too well, when one controls not only the State but a military organisation too, it is a lot easier to suppress manifestations of discontent and master unfavourable economic conditions. This factor is also extremely decisive in the case of the dictatorship of the proletariat, when historical developments are in our favour. Undoubtedly the Fascisti are very well organised and have set themselves clear objectives. Under these circumstances one may conclude that the position of the Fascist Government is by no means insecure.
You may have noted that I have not exaggerated the conditions under which our Party has been conducting its struggle. That is because I wished to avoid turning it into a sentimental issue. Perhaps the Communist Party of Italy has committed certain errors. We are entitled to criticise these, but I believe, at the present time, that the attitude of our comrades is proof that we have carried out an important task: the formation of a revolutionary party of the proletariat, basis for the recovery of the working class in Italy.
Italian Communists have a right to be recognised for who they are. Even if their approach hasn’t always met with approval, they feel they have nothing to reproach themselves with before the revolutionary movement and the Communist International.