REPORT ON FASCISM
by the Communist Party of Italy delegate
At the Fourth Congress it is well-known I made a report on fascism at a decisive turning point in the history of fascism in Italy. Our delegation left Italy to be here on the day before Mussolini took power.
Today I need to speak about the matter a second time, and again at a crucial turning point in the development of fascism, prompted, as you know, by the Matteotti affair. Fate has also decreed, same as before, that this event should occur immediately after the Italian delegation’s departure for the 5th Congress. In both cases, therefore, the timing of the reports has been appropriate in terms of illustrating the extremely important social and political phenomenon of fascism.
Naturally, I am not going to repeat here everything I said in my first report about the historical development of fascism because there are too many other points I need to cover. I will therefore just briefly recall the main ideas in the critique of fascism I made at that time. I will do so in a schematic way such as to maintain the integrity of what I said at the 4th Congress.
First of all: the origins of fascism.
In terms of its historical origins the fascist movement is linked to a number of groups which advocated Italian intervention in the world war. There were many groups that supported such a policy, including an extreme left composed of renegades from syndicalism, anarchism, and in some cases – especially in Mussolini’s group – renegades from socialism’s extreme left. This latter group completely identified itself with the politics of national harmony and military intervention against the Central Powers. And it is very characteristic that this was the group to provide post war fascism with its General Staff. Relations between this earlier political grouping and the great fascist movement we are faced with today can be followed in an unbroken succession.
The date of birth of classic fascist action is November 2, 1920, the day the events in Bologna (Palazzo D’Accursio) took place. I will nevertheless omit this point of a purely historical character and move on to other matters.
Somebody typified the governmental crisis in Italy as follows: fascism represents the political negation of the period in which bourgeois liberal and left democratic politics held sway; it is the harshest form of reaction against the policy of concessions which was put into practice by Giolitti and co in the post-war period. We, on the other hand, are of the opinion that the two periods are dialectically linked: that the former attitude of the Italian bourgeoisie during the State crisis brought about by the post-war period, was nothing but a natural preparation for Fascism.
In this period there a proletarian offensive threatened. The forces of the bourgeoisie weren’t sufficient to withstand a direct attack. They therefore had to resort to cunning manoeuvres to avoid the engagement; and while these manoeuvres were being put into effect by the politicians of the left, fascism was able to prepare its subsequent massive instruments of coercion and lay the groundwork for the second phase, when it would take the offensive itself to deal a death blow to the revolutionary forces. It isn’t possible here to go over every argument that supports this interpretation. Again, what I said at the 4th Congress still holds true. Another fact. Fascism starts out from the agricultural districts. This is extremely typical. The attack on positions held by the revolutionary proletariat starts in the peasant zones. Bologna is a rural centre. It is the capital city of a large agricultural area in the Po valley, and it was here that fascism started its triumphal tour through the whole of Italy, spreading out in various directions. In our first report we gave a geographical description of this triumphal tour. Suffice here to recall that fascism only attacks the industrial centres and the large cities during a second phase.
But although it is true that fascist action began in the non-industrial areas, we should not draw the conclusion that the fascist movement was created to serve the interests of the landed bourgeoisie, the large landowners. Quite the contrary. Behind this movement there stands the interests of big industry, commerce, and high finance as well. It is an attempt at a unitary counter-revolutionary offensive of all of the bourgeois forces. This is another thesis which I will be hammering out and returning to it many times in the course of this report. One should add – third point – the fact of the mobilization of middle classes. At first sight, going by external appearances, fascism does not give the impression of being a movement of the above mentioned upper social strata, i.e., the great landowners and the big capitalist bourgeoisie, but rather a movement of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, of ex-servicemen, intellectuals and all those classes which the proletariat has not yet managed to draw into its orbit and rally around the watchword of revolutionary dictatorship. Within these classes a powerful ideological, political and organisational mobilization has been developed; their discontent and their restlessness have been organised. They were told: you are the third class to enter the battlefield, that is, a new force that not only rebels against the proletariat, but also against the old bourgeoisie and its traditional politicians. During the post-war crisis the proletariat didn’t manage to enforce its revolutionary policy, and seize the power which was slipping out of the hands of the old ruling class. Now a third class appears on the scene. Such is the external appearance which fascism likes to give itself. But in reality it is a mobilisation of the middle classes, driven by and under the leadership of the conservative forces of the big bourgeoisie, with the cooperation and help of the State apparatus. Hence the dual face of fascism: firstly, it defends the interests of the big bourgeoisie, that is, the interests of the upper class; secondly, it mobilises the middle classes, that is, the important social forces of the small and middle bourgeoisie, in defence of those interests. In my first report I made a critique of fascist ideology. I asked: what is the ideology on which this movement based? Nowadays it has become a commonplace to state that fascism has no theory, has done nothing to outline a new political theory. It claims to have accomplished a revolution, to have given a new face to social and political struggle. In actual fact, from a theoretical point of view, it has created absolutely nothing that could serve as the constructive basis for the programme of such a revolution; of this self styled top to toe renewal of Italian society which, according to Mussolini, may tomorrow be extended to societies in other countries. It is a fact that to begin with fascism possesses a program that borrows a number of points from the programs of the extreme left. But this program exclusively serves the needs of the mobilisation which we referred to earlier. It is quickly forgotten, in fact transformed into its exact opposite, as soon as fascism gets into power; and from that moment its program of renewal fizzles out.
Fascism is not a revolutionary movement. It is a purely conservative movement for the defence of the established bourgeois order. It does not produce a new programme. However, as soon as we move from the ideological to the organisational sphere, we can see that it is bringing in something new. We can immediately see that there is something here that the bourgeoisie in Italy, and in other countries, haven’t so far employed. Although the Italian bourgeoisie had great political leaders, professional politicians, parliamentarians who could be assured of a great popular following at elections, and although it had its great liberal party, its policy used to be characterised by the fact that it lacked any organisational force. The liberal party had a clear and concrete doctrine, a well-defined historical tradition, and an ideology which was entirely adequate from a bourgeois point of view. But it lacked organisation. Fascism completely turned this state of affairs on its head. It brings nothing new in ideological terms (we will see soon enough the worth of its critique of the ideology of old bourgeois parties). But it does deploy a new factor which the old parties completely lacked: a powerful campaigning apparatus, powerful both in terms of its political organisation and its military organisation.
This shows that in the present period of grave capitalist crisis the State apparatus is no longer sufficient to defend the bourgeoisie. It needs to be backed up by a well-organised party which is capable of operating on a countrywide level and which struggles to gain support from the middle classes, and maybe even to sidle up to certain strata of the working class. During this crisis the bourgeoisie can face out the impending revolution only thanks to the mobilisation of the non-bourgeois classes. What relations exist between fascism and the proletariat? Fascism is by its nature an anti-socialist, and therefore anti-proletarian, movement. Since its inception fascism has presented itself as the destroyer of even the most minor conquests of the working class. Nevertheless it is incorrect to identify fascism with the traditional reaction of the extreme right: with its states of siege, its terror, its emergency laws and its prohibition of the revolutionary organisations. Fascism goes farther. It is a more modern movement. And being more sophisticated, it also endeavours to gain influence amongst the proletarian masses, and to this end it unhesitatingly accepts the principles of trade union organisation. It tries to create workers’ economic organisations.
Clearly these trade unions bear no comparison with free trade unions. Nevertheless, in my opinion, we must establish that the very existence of fascist unions represents a very significant argument against revolutionary syndicalism, which sees the economic organisation as the decisive weapon of class struggle. The facts show that this weapon can just as well be exploited for counter-revolutionary ends.
Of course the fascist trade union movement is to be distinguished from the real trade union movement by one very characteristic feature, i.e., it recruits amongst the ranks of all classes and not just amongst the working class because it is actually a form of organisation based on the sectors of production. The intention is to create parallel organisations of workers and employers on the basis of class collaboration.
We have thus reached a point where fascism and democracy converge. In short, fascism is playing the old game of the left wing bourgeois parties and social-democracy, that is, calling on the proletariat to declare a civil truce. To achieve this end it tries to form trade unions of industrial workers and of agricultural workers which are then manoeuvred into a de facto collaboration with the bosses’ organisations. The sole intention of this action, of course, is to annihilate the revolutionary organisations and to allow the proletarian masses to be fully exploited by the capitalists. And yet the upper propertied strata does not portray fascism as a brutal method of oppressing the workers, on the contrary it is presented as a way of organising the entire productive forces of the country, with the recognition of this requirement taking the form of the collaboration of all economic groups in the "national interest".
Obviously what underlies all this is the exploitation of nationalistic and patriotic ideology. This isn’t something entirely new. During the war, the formula of the submission of all particular interests to the general interest of the whole country had already been widely utilised in the national interest. Fascism is therefore reverting to an old programme of bourgeois politics. However, this programme appears in a form which somehow echoes the programme of social democracy but on the other hand really does contain something new, that is a powerful political and military organisation at the service of the conservative forces.
The conclusion I drew in the report I made to the 4th Congress was that the fascist programme is actually based on a fundamental historical and social contradiction. Fascism would like to reconcile and silence all economic and social conflicts within society. But this is just the outward appearance. In reality it endeavours to achieve unity within the bourgeoisie, a coalition between the upper layers of the propertied classes in which individual contrasts between the interests of the different groups of the bourgeoisie and of the different capitalist enterprises are smoothed out.
On the economic terrain, fascism is entirely stuck in the rut of old bourgeois liberalism: it rejects any State intervention in the economy; preaches unlimited freedom of action for business; and advocates the free interplay of the forces which stem from capitalism. However this causes it to get caught up in an insoluble contradiction: it is extremely difficult to put into practice a unitary politics of the bourgeois class so long as there is complete freedom among economic organisations to develop in whatever way they choose, and so long as individual groups of capitalists are completely free to compete among themselves. The conclusion we draw from this is that fascism is destined to fail due to the economic anarchy of capitalism despite it holding the reins of government firmly in its grasp, despite it commanding the powerful weapon of the state apparatus, and despite the fact it has an organisation extending throughout the entire peninsula which mobilises the middle classes, and to a certain extent the proletariat as well, in the interests of the united bourgeoisie. The mighty fascist apparatus may give the impression that fascist power will last, but at its very roots this power suffers from a fundamental contradiction, because fascism hasn’t shown that it possess any new way of overcoming the capitalist crisis.
Today, same as before, we believe that the capitalist crisis will not be overcome by "heroic" means. I have repeated here the fundamental concepts for the analysis of fascism which I expounded in my first report. The conclusions we have drawn are the same as before, and they are fully confirmed by almost two years of fascist dictatorship.
* * *
Let us return to the historical phase we were in at the time of the 4th Congress, when the fascists took power: the conclusion of the general offensive against the revolutionary forces and against the old detainers of power in Italy, the March on Rome. In that report I hadn’t yet touched on the controversial question that arose in our ranks during the 4th Congress, although comrade Zinoviev mentioned it in his speech. What happened during our absence from Italy? A coup or a comedy? I will briefly take up this issue although in my opinion there were three options: coup, comedy – or revolution?
Let us remind ourselves of the characteristic features of the fascist seizure of power. There was no armed struggle. There was merely a mobilisation of fascism which threatened a revolutionary conquest of power, and a sort of defensive mobilisation of the State, which at a certain point actually declared a state of emergency. But the State didn’t put up any real resistance. There was no armed struggle. Instead of fighting, a compromise was reached, and at a certain moment the struggle was, so to speak, put on hold, postponed. This was not because the King, at the right moment, refused to sign the decree of martial law, but because the compromise had evidently been prepared a long time before. The fascist government therefore established itself in the normal way: after the resignation of the Facta government, the King summoned Mussolini to form a new cabinet. The leader of this self-styled revolution reached Rome from Milan in a sleeping car, and at every stop along the way he was cheered by official representatives of the State. Why one cannot talk of a revolution is not merely because power was taken without an insurrectional attack, but because of all the other reasons we touched on earlier when considering the historical significance of fascism. From a social point of view fascism does not represent a major change; it does not represent the historical negation of the old bourgeois methods of government, it merely represents the completely logical and dialectical continuation of the preceding stage of so-called democratic and liberal bourgeois government.
We resolutely oppose the statement, repeated over and over again by the fascists, that their assumption of power can be equated with revolution. In his speeches Mussolini says, "we made a revolution". But when we retort, "there was no revolution, no struggle, no revolutionary terror, because an out and out ’seizure of power’ never took place, and nor was there a real annihilation of the enemy", then Mussolini answers with an argument which, from an historical point of view, is quite laughable: "we still have time for that", he says, "we will complete our revolution in due course". But a revolution cannot be ’put on ice’; not even the most daring and powerful of leaders has that kind of power. Such arguments aren’t enough to refute the critique which points out the revolution never took place. You cannot say, "it’s true, these events haven’t yet happened, but that can be remedied whenever we want". It is of course always possible that new battles will take place. But the March on Rome was certainly not a battle, not a revolution. It is also said, "there has, nevertheless, been an unusual kind of changeover of governmental power, a coup", but I won’t dwell on this point because in the end just boils down to a play on words. Also, when we use the term "coup d’Ètat" we understand it to mean not merely a change of government personnel, a mere change in the general staff of the party in power, but rather an action that eliminates, in a violent way, the underlying orientation of every government which had ruled up to that time. Fascism didn’t do that. Fascism talks a lot about how it is against parliamentarism, and about how antidemocratic and antiparliamentarian it is. But, taken as a whole, its social programme is the same old programme of democratic lies, just an ideological weapon for the conservation of bourgeois rule. Even before fascism took power it very rapidly became "parliamentarian"; indeed it ruled for a year and a half without dispersing the old lower house which was composed of a majority of non-fascists, and even of anti-fascists. Displaying the flexibility so characteristic of bourgeois politicians, this house then hastened to put itself at Mussolini’s disposal in order to legalize his position and to grant him as many votes of confidence as he deigned to ask of them. Even the first Mussolini cabinet – as he frequently recalls in his "left wing speeches" – was not built on purely fascist foundations. It included representatives of the most significant of the remaining bourgeois parties, ranging from Giolitti’s party and the Popolari, to the democratic left. It was therefore a coalition government. Here then is what the so-called coup has begotten! A party with only 35 MPs in the House took power and occupied the overwhelming majority of ministerial and vice ministerial posts.
There is another important historical event which occurred in Italy which is nothing to do with the March on Rome and which also needs to be highlighted. I refer to the occupation of Italy as a whole by the fascists; an occupation set in train by previous events and whose geographical spread can be clearly plotted. The seizure of power by Mussolini was merely the acknowledgement of a previously existing relationship of forces. Every government raised to power – above all Facta’s – had given fascism free rein. It was the latter which really governed the country; it was given a completely free hand and had the state apparatus at its disposal. The Facta cabinet was only in charge for two months, awaiting the moment when fascism would deem it proper to take power.
These are the reasons why we used the term "Comedy". At any rate, we completely stand by our statement that this is not a revolution. What has happened is rather a change in the bourgeois leadership; a change, moreover, which was prepared for in advance, and accomplished gradually. In the economic and social field, it does not represent, not even in the realm of domestic policy, any kind of transformation of the programme of Italian bourgeoisie. As a matter of fact the great shock wave of the so-called fascist revolution, both before and after the March on Rome, does not rest on the official utilisation of the state apparatus, but rather on illegal reaction flanked by the tacit support of the police, local administration, bureaucracy and army; tacit support – and we need to be emphatic about this – which was already there, in abundance, even before the fascists took power.
In Mussolini’s first speeches to the House, he said, "I could throw you out of this room with the support of my troops. I could do it, but I’m not going to. The house can continue to perform its duties, provided it is ready to collaborate with me". The overwhelming majority of the old House was quite willing to bow to the orders of the new chief.
As a matter of fact, no new legislation was introduced after the fascists took power. In the realm of domestic policy, no emergency laws were enacted. Certainly there have been political persecutions (which we will discuss later) but officially the laws have not been modified. There have been no exceptional decrees like those approved by bourgeois governments during revolutionary phases, such as for example the ones enacted by Crispi and Pelloux, who periodically sought protection against the revolutionary parties and their leaders by adopting a policy consisting of states of emergency, military jurisdiction and repressive measures.
Fascism, on the other hand, continues to use the same original and modern technique against the proletarian forces it used before taking power. They have even declared that they will disband their illegal assault troops as soon as the other parties have done the same. In reality, the fascist fighting corps have disappeared as organisations external to the State only to then be inserted into the state apparatus through the formation of the "National Militia". And now, as before, this armed force remains at the disposal of the fascist party, and of Mussolini in person. It represents a new organisation, officially absorbed within the state apparatus. It is the pillar on which fascism rests.
On the agenda the question remains: should we allow this organisation to disappear or not? Can fascism be required to rely on constitutional means in domestic politics rather than on these new organs? Of course fascism hasn’t so far acknowledged the old norms of constitutional law, and at present the Militia is the harshest enemy of all those who aspire to bring down fascist rule.
Legally speaking, there are no emergency laws in our country. When in February 1923 thousands of Italian communists were arrested, we expected fascism to start a legal campaign against us, to take drastic steps and to obtain the harshest sentences. But the situation developed in a very favourable way and we were judged according to the old democratic laws. The Italian penal code, the work of a representative of the extreme bourgeois left, minister Zanardelli, is extremely liberal and leaves much room for interpretation. With regard to crimes to do with politics and beliefs it is particularly mild and flexible. It was therefore easy for us to assume the following position: "fascism getting rid of its enemies and taking dictatorial measures against us is quite understandable. It is perfectly right to judge us and find us guilty because we are communists, and because we aim to overthrow the existing government by revolutionary means. However, from a legal point of view, what we do is not prohibited. Other things certainly are prohibited, but you have absolutely no evidence of the alleged conspiracy, of the criminal association on which the charge is based". Not only did we stick to this line, but thanks to it we were acquitted by the tribunals, because it was absolutely impossible to convict us on the basis of the existing laws.
We could therefore see that the judiciary and police apparatus, from fascism’s point of view, were not up to the task. Fascism had got hold of the state apparatus but was unable to transform it to suit its purposes. It did not know how to get rid of the communist leaders through court rulings. It had its cadres, it own terrorist organisations, but within the justice system it did not deem it necessary to employ new weapons. This is for me a further demonstration of the total inadequacy of bourgeois-liberal guarantees and of liberal justice in the struggle against the freedom of movement of the proletariat. It is true that in such circumstances our defence had to adopt legal means as well, but if the enemy possesses an illegal organisation, by means of which it can resolve the issue in quite a different way, these democratic guarantees lose any meaning.
Fascism sticks to the old policy of left democratic lies, of equality before the law for all, and so on and so forth. This does not stop it from continuing to seriously persecute the proletariat. I merely wish to say, with reference to the purely political trials by which the leaders of the revolutionary proletariat were supposed to be crushed, that the new situation created by fascism hasn’t changed the classic system of the democratic-bourgeois governments at all. A revolution, on the other hand, is always characterized by the transformation of the political laws.
I will now briefly deal with the events which occurred after fascism took power.
First of all a few words on the economic situation in Italy. Fascists are continually telling us that the economic crisis of 1920 and 1921 was followed, after they took power, by a period of economic growth. They maintain that in the past two years the situation has stabilized, economical equilibrium has returned, order has been re-established and the whole situation has undergone a marked improvement. These are supposed to be the advantages of fascism for all social classes, the blessing for which the Italian people is indebted to fascism. This official position is supported by a full scale mobilisation of the whole of the press, and by the employment of all the means a party firmly entrenched in power has at its disposal. But this is just an official lie. The current economic situation in Italy is bad. The rate of exchange of the lira has plummeted to the lowest level since the end of the war: it is worth just 4.3 U.S. cents, i.e., fluctuations in the exchange rate have seen it drop to the lowest value so far recorded. Fascism hasn’t been able to improve the situation. It is true that, according to Mussolini, without him the lira’s rate of exchange would have dropped even lower, but this argument cannot be taken seriously.
The fascists also claim to have re-established a balanced budget. This is true from a material point of view: after all, it is well known that with State Budgets you can demonstrate whatever you want. In any case, fascists did not contradict the statement made by the Opposition’s experts, according to whom if the price of coal had not dropped compared with the 1920-21 prices, and if war costs, which have to be discharged over a given period of time, had not been recorded in a different way, the budget deficit would be far higher today than in 1920-21, as can be proven by the figures alone.
The index of the economic situation certainly shows widespread decline. As regards the unemployment figures they were very high in 1920, and particularly in 1921, and it is true they are lower now, but the data over the last few months shows that unemployment is rising again, and that the industrial crisis has not been overcome once and for all. In the business world the situation is extremely tense; trade is encountering major difficulties. This is proven by the statistics on bankruptcies which show an enormous increase compared with recent years. Also the cost of living index in large cities is rising. It is quite clear that the whole economic situation in Italy is getting worse; it hasn’t stabilized at all. And what fascism has produced, by means of enormous pressure exerted by the bourgeoisie, is only an external stability. The official indices show that all that has been obtained is just the expression of this terrible pressure exerted on the proletariat; that all that has been accomplished has been at the expense of the proletarian class and solely in the interest of the ruling class. Nor should it be forgotten that the very existence of this pitiless pressure makes it very likely that there will be an eruption of those very classes which were sacrificed in the fascist attempt to stabilize the economic situation in the exclusive interest of the big bourgeoisie.
I will now move on to the fascist government’s attitude towards the workers. I pointed out earlier that the great political trials staged against us have provided evidence of the inadequacy of the fascist State’s legal apparatus. Nevertheless, whenever they have been able to accuse comrades of committing common-law offences, rather than those the law considers ’political’, they have come down very heavily indeed. Numerous clashes have occurred, and are still taking place, between fascists and proletarians (mainly communists); and in such skirmishes there are generally casualties on both sides. It is a notorious fact that, long after the fascists took power, fascists who had killed workers were still being granted complete immunity, even when the proof against them was conclusive. Workers, on the other hand, who wounded or killed fascists in self defence received extremely severe sentences. The amnesty which has been decreed is only to the advantage of those who committed common-law offences for national ends: in other words it is an amnesty for fascist assassins, while those common criminals who pursue anti-national ends, i.e., who fight against fascism, must expect the harshest punishments. It is an unalloyed class amnesty.
A later amnesty would reduce sentences to between 2 and 3 years; but it is important to know that our comrades are generally sentenced to 10, 15 or even 20 years of imprisonment. Hundreds and hundreds of workers, Italian comrades, are today in jail because they didn’t manage to get over the border quickly enough after armed confrontations with the fascists; confrontations they’d participated in but which were almost inevitably provoked by the fascists. Thus the present Italian government is carrying out the most ferocious oppression against the working class. Whenever the working class tries to defend itself against the fascist terror, legal action immediately follows, in a way that does not differ much from the old political trials for "treason". In strictly legal terms, the right of the communist party, anarchist movement, etc, to exist continues to be guaranteed by the law as before. What isn’t possible... in theory?
And it is pretty much the same as far as the press is concerned. Officially, there is still freedom of the press. All parties are allowed to publish their organs but, although there is no legal pretext for it, the police authorities can prohibit the distribution of a newspaper. Up to now only communists have been the target of this prohibition. Our daily paper, Il Lavoratore of Trieste, has been prohibited in accordance with an Austrian law still enforced in that town. Thus the old Austrian laws are used against the revolutionaries, that is, against those who during the war, due to their defeatism, were called accomplices of Austria!
To this we can add the suppression of newspapers by armed bands, the raids on editorial offices by which the publication of proletarian press is made impossible, the sabotage of journalists associations, and so on and so forth. Even now our newspapers, as well as those of the opposition, are still often destroyed or burnt when they reach their destination.
The fascist government exerts a terrible pressure on the trade unions. Workers are forced to join the fascist unions. The red trade union offices have been destroyed. But despite this, they haven’t managed to rally the masses in the fascist economical organizations. The figures published by the fascists are a bluff. In fact the proletariat is today unorganized from a trade union point of view. At times the masses go along with the movements led by fascists unions but only because it offers them their only opportunity to strike. Many workers, many categories, which in their overwhelming majority are not in favour of the fascist unions, and which in the elections for the internal commissions vote in their overwhelming majority against fascists and for the revolutionary candidates, have to join the fascist trade union just so they can at least try to fight the bourgeoisie. Thus a grave conflict ensues within the fascist trade union movement. It can’t avoid strikes and is drawn into the struggle against the fascist organisations of bosses. This conflict within the fascist and government organs is always resolved to the detriment of the workers. Hence the discontent, the grave crisis that the leaders of the fascist union movement have been unable to conceal at their recent meetings. Their attempts at organising the industrial proletariat have completely failed. Their action aims to create a pretext – a superfluous pretext – for putting a break on the activity of free unions and keeping the proletariat in a state of disorganisation.
Recently the Government has taken steps against the free trade unions as well: official State control of the internal organisational and administrative work of unions has been introduced. This is a very serious step, but it does not change the essence of the situation as the work of the free unions had already been almost completely paralysed by earlier measures.
Free unions continue to exist, as do the Chambers of Labour (Camere del Lavoro), the trade guilds, etc., but it is absolutely impossible to provide accurate figures regarding their membership, even when they have managed to remain in contact with the masses. This is because orderly and continuous collection of contributions, and recruitment drives, are almost completely forbidden. Up to now it hasn’t been possible in Italy to reconstruct the cadres of the trade union organisations. But the great advantage of fascism is supposedly that there will be no more strikes. This, for the bourgeoisie and the philistines of the petty bourgeoisie, is the real clincher.
Back in 1920, when there was no fascism, they say, masses of workers could be seen taking to the streets every day. Here a strike, there a procession, open confrontations breaking out. Nowadays there are no longer any strikes, there is no longer any unrest. In the factories the work is no longer interrupted, and peace and order reign. This is the employers’ point of view.
Nevertheless, strikes are still called, and during these strikes incidents worthy of mention have occurred arising out of the relations existing between fascist trade unions, revolutionary workers, government and employers. The situation is definitely unstable. The continued presence of class struggle is demonstrated by a number of significant events. Indeed there is no doubt, despite the obstacles, that it is on the rise. The action of the fascist government is also directed against workers in the State owned enterprises. For example, out and out terror is being used against the railway workers. A great number of them have been sacked. Of course the first ones to be gotten rid of have been active members of the revolutionary organizations (the railway workers’ organization used to be one of the trade unions whose leadership was much further to the left). The Government has acted in the same way towards several other State-linked enterprises.
The fascist riposte: but we have given proletarians the 8 hour day! The 8 hour day is now established by law! These are great conquests! Name another bourgeois government of a major country which has promulgated such a law!
But this law contains rider clauses which totally annul the principle of the 8 hour working day. In fact, even if the law were rigorously enforced it would be possible to introduce an average working day which was a lot longer than 8 hours. In any case, the law is not enforced. With the approval of the fascist trade unions the employers do whatever they want within the workplace. And finally, the proletariat in Italy had already conquered the 8 hour day with its own organisations in any case; indeed, several federations had obtained a working day which was even shorter. We aren’t, therefore, talking about a "gift" bestowed by fascism on the Italian proletariat. In fact we could say that unemployment is increasing because the bosses are forcing the workers in the factories to work a lot more than 8 hours a day.
The other "conquests" are not even worthy of mention. Workers who had previously secured certain rights, a certain freedom of movement and action in the factories, are now subjected to an iron discipline. The Italian worker works today under the knout.
As regards the economic situation, all available figures show that wages have dropped dramatically after having temporarily reached a level corresponding to the rise in prices of indispensable goods, the prices of which today are 4-5 times higher than before the war. The workers’ standard of living has worsened. Certainly "order" has been re-established in the workplace, but it is a reactionary order, an order in the general interest of exploitation by the bosses. There is plenty of tangible proof that all fascist action, including that of their trade unions, is in the service of the employers and of the Union of Industrialists.
As regards the dockers’ organisation, despite it being led by notorious opportunists of the likes of Giulietti (or maybe precisely because of this) it managed, up to a certain point, to resist the fascist power and to survive the March on Rome. Existing alongside this organisation there was a dockers’ cooperative, called the "Garibaldi". Just as the new contract was about to be signed between the Government and the ship-owners, the Garibaldi thought it would make a more competitive offer. This would have meant dangerous competition for the ship-owners. It would have forced them to make a more attractive, but less profitable, offer. So what did they do? The group representing the shipping magnates, the maritime kings, issued an order to the fascist government, and the fascist government hastened to carry it out. Using the pretext of a conflict provoked by the local authorities, police officers were sent to occupy the offices of the cooperative and it was forced it to suspend its activities.
The situation is very complicated, but we can sum it up as follows: it is clear that the fascist state apparatus is in the service of the capitalist groups fighting against the working class. Today the whole life of the proletariat, the whole industrial life of Italy, provides the most damning proof, and clearest demonstration, that the development of government into a steering organ and business committee of capitalists has been realised in its most extreme form in our country. We should also be aware that similar phenomena are affecting the farm labourers. I cite as an example the strike led by the fascist trade union which was fought by the so-called "rice weeders" in the fields of Lomellina. Launched with the approval of the fascist union, it was a strike which would eventually see the full might of reactionary terror hurled against it; the strikers, women all, were attacked by the police and the militia, that is, by the organs of the fascist government, and the strike was stifled in blood.
There are hundreds of similar examples giving a picture of the situation in which the Italian proletariat finds itself today. The fascist trade union policy allows workers to try and conduct struggles; but as soon as there is any actual conflict between workers and bosses, the government intervenes with brutal violence in the interests of capitalist exploitation.
What is the relationship between fascism and the middle classes? A whole series of events gives damning proof of the disappointment of the middle classes. At first they saw fascism as their movement, as the start of a new historical period. They believed that the rule of the big bourgeoisie and its political leaders had been brought to an end, and without the need for any proletarian dictatorship; without the Bolshevik revolution which had caused them to tremble in 1919 and 1920. They believed that the rule of the middle classes, of the ex-servicemen, of those who had fought a victorious war, was about to be realised; they thought they could create a powerful organisation which would enable them to take up the reins of the State. In order to defend their own interests they wanted to develop an autonomous policy which would fight against both capitalist and proletarian dictatorships. The bankruptcy of this program is shown by the measures adopted by the fascist government; measures which not only hit the proletariat extremely hard, but also the middle classes who were raving about having created their own power, their own dictatorship, and who had even been drawn into demonstrations against the old apparatus of bourgeois rule, which they thought to have brought down with the fascist revolution. All of fascism’s governmental measures show that it is in the service of the big bourgeoisie, of industrial, financial and commercial capital, and that its power is directed against the interests of every other class; not just the proletariat, but the middle classes as well.
For instance, measures introduced in the housing field have hit all classes indiscriminately. During the war a moratorium was introduced which imposed certain limitations on the rent increases landlords could impose. The fascists have abolished these, giving landlords the option of raising rents. True, after having re-established unlimited freedom in this field, they had to enact a new law which limited the rights of landlords. But this new law is of a purely demagogic nature. Its only purpose is to placate the anger the first law aroused. Yet there remains a huge shortage of lodgings. The same applies to the educational reform. This was defined by Mussolini as "the most fascist of all reforms", and was drafted by the famous philosopher Gentile. From a technical point of view it is a reform which has to be taken seriously. To resolve the issue according to the new criteria, truly remarkable work has been done. But the whole tendency of the reform is aristocratic: a good education for the sons of workers, the poor, the petty bourgeois is rendered impossible. It means that only the well-to-do, that is, those families which can afford the high school fees for their children, will enjoy the privilege of culture. And that is why this reform has been very badly received by the middle class and petty bourgeoisie, and even by teachers and professors, whose economic condition has further deteriorated, and who are now subjected to a stricter discipline.
Another example: to solve the problem of bureaucratic reform, fascism has carried out a review of the salaries of State white-collar workers according to the principle: decrease of the lowest salaries, increase of the salaries of senior functionaries. This reform has provoked a feeling of discontent towards the fascist government amongst the junior ranks of the State bureaucracy as well.
There is also the question of taxes, which I won’t deal with in depth here, but which clearly shows the class character of the fascist government. Basically, the latter wanted to rebalance the budget. However, it didn’t take any measures against the capitalists in pursuit of this aim. In order to raise more revenue it simply increased the burden weighing down on the proletariat, on consumers and on the middle and petty bourgeoisie.
One of the main reasons for discontent towards fascism resides in its treatment of the rural population, small tenants, etc.
Fascism is the enemy of the industrial proletariat but it has caused a no less marked worsening in the conditions of the peasant class. Previous governments had already taken measures to regulate land taxation but they were never applied. The fascist minister De Stefani has now tried to enforce them in such a draconian way that an unbearable fiscal burden now weighs heavily upon the whole of small land property, even affecting the incomes of small farmers, tenants and farm hands. This is aggravated by municipal and provincial taxes, which local socialist administrations in the past had managed to manoeuvre in an anti-capitalistic direction which was favourable to the workers. Nowadays taxes on cattle and other taxes are instead causing a severe decline in the condition of small farmers. Recently the tax on wine was slightly reduced, a reduction which aimed to blunt the sharpness of discontent in the countryside. But all these taxes represent, now as before, a terrible burden for the rural population.
I will just give the example of a comrade from the Italian delegation who is himself a small farmer. For his 12 hectare plot, which he part owns, part rents, he must pay £.1,500, that is 12,5% of an output of £.12,000. Just imagine how intensively he has to farm that plot to ensure the existence of his family and employees!
A noteworthy phenomenon has taken place in the South of Italy. Last year, the grape harvest was excellent. Prices fell dramatically, and this year wine is only fetching very low prices. In the South there are many tenant farmers who say they are not making any money. But they grow other crops as well as the grape, and they generally use the other crop to somehow cover production costs, whilst grape growing provides the income on which they live. But, given the current wine prices, taxes and wine production costs, etc., there is nothing left over for them. Production costs and retail prices are the same; the peasant farmer doesn’t have enough to provide for his family. He is then forced to get into debt, to ask for advances from the petty bourgeois of the rural centres or from the large landlords, and in the latter case he has to mortgage his land. In the immediate post-war period, raising rents was forbidden by law. This law was abolished by the fascists. Small tenants now have to pay a rent to landlords which has gone up by anything from 100 to 400%. Even the clauses concerning the division of the crop between tenant and landlord have been drastically modified to the advantage of the latter. In order to survive the small landowner is forced to sell part of his land, or give up the plot for which he paid half cash, half-loan. If one day he can’t pay, he immediately loses both the acquired land and the money already paid out. What is presently taking place is an out and out expropriation of small farmers. Those who paid high prices for their land in the post war period, and are now without cash, are being forced to sell for less than they paid. I repeat, this is a real expropriation of small landowning farmers by large landowners, a phenomenon that tends to become increasingly widespread. Every measure the fascist government has taken in this sphere has had but one consequence: the worsening of the condition of the rural proletariat.
Formerly the socialists conducted an agitation whose methods we couldn’t entirely endorse: they tried to get the government to undertake major land reclamation works to occupy the farm workers, to fight unemployment, and thus improve labour’s bargaining position in the countryside. The fascist government has now suspended these works in order to balance the budget. A huge number of rural workers have consequently been thrown onto the labour market, poverty in the countryside has increased and the proletariat’s standard of living has further declined.
Discontent has been directed at the government. The fascists have talked at length about the parasitism of the old red cooperatives, which by means of parliamentary pressure in favour of public works used to systematically exploit the State, but now they are doing exactly the same thing. They are trying, with their fascist cooperatives (almost the entire cooperative apparatus of the socialists has been forcibly transferred to them) to carry out a similar policy in the interests of the new fascist bureaucracy.
The dire conditions which has been foisted on the peasantry by fascism means this class now sees the fascist government as a power which is hostile to its interests and it is gradually taking up a more combative stance. There have already been instances of armed peasant revolts against taxes, and against the fascist municipal administrations, which have resulted in bloody clashes. The fact that this has happened is extremely important and it characterises the situation very well.
Having commented on fascism’s social policy, I’ll now move to consider its policy in other fields, starting with religion. The stance fascism takes on this issue is an example of its theoretical flexibility. To begin with, in order to exploit certain attitudes traditionally held by the middle classes and by intellectuals, fascism adopted an anticlerical programme; thus did it fight the catholic Popular Party in order to undermine its influence in the countryside. In a second period fascism started competing with the Popolari, and became the official party of religion and of Catholicism. Both from an historical and a theoretical point of view this is quite remarkable. The Vatican is conducting a pro-Fascist policy. It has been very happy with the concessions the fascist government has made by agreeing to improve conditions for the clergy and restoring the teaching of religion in schools. Mussolini, who when he was in Switzerland was the editor of a petty collection of anti-religious books (tuppenny ha’penny pamphlets in which the non-existence of God was demonstrated and you could read about papal misdeeds, the story of the woman elected to the papal throne, and all the other rubbish which for centuries has clouded the minds of workers) this same Mussolini nowadays, whenever he deems it useful, invokes ’the Lord’ and proclaims that he is governing ’in God’s name’.
The political opportunism of the Vatican hides a fundamental antagonism which is brought out in the clash between the fascists and popolari (the latter representing a kind of Christian democracy). The catholic idea, as such, is opposed to fascism, because fascism represents an exaltation of the fatherland, of the nation, and its deification. From a catholic point of view this is a heresy. Fascism would like to make of Catholicism an Italian national question, but the catholic church’s policy is inherently international and universal because it seeks to extend its political and moral influence across all borders. This extremely significant conflict has been resolved, for the time being, thanks to a compromise.
Let us now look briefly at fascist foreign policy. The fascists, as far as international politics is concerned, claim to have found Italy in an extremely dire situation; the country was a laughing stock but after fascism took power, and Italy acquired a strong government, it started to be treated very differently, and its position on the international stage is now very much changed.
Events have nevertheless shown that all fascist foreign policy can do is continue the old tradition of the Italian bourgeoisie. Indeed nothing has changed, nothing new has occurred. After playing his main card in the famous Corfu Incident, Mussolini immediately renounced coups of this sort, saw reason, and was welcomed into the ranks of orthodox diplomacy, taking great care not to repeat the earlier mistake elsewhere. The great French and English newspapers write that Mussolini is a very astute politician, and that following the Corfu expedition, which was really rather a childish action, he has become very wise and prudent. As a matter of fact Mussolini’s international policy is the only option Italy has; a second rate policy, because in the struggle between the great world powers Italy plays a subordinate role. In the matter of war reparations and in the Franco-German conflict Mussolini has always taken an intermediate stance, which has exerted absolutely no influence, one way or the other, on the existing power relations. Its erratic attitude has been welcomed with satisfaction, one minute by Germany, then by France, then by Great Britain.
It is true that fascism was able to modify, or rather overturn, power relations within the Italian border. But it wasn’t able to pull off the same stunt again on an international scale because it has absolutely no influence on inter-state relations. Since the necessary historical and social presuppositions for such influence are lacking, one cannot really talk seriously of an Italian imperialism.
A few facts will place the extremely modest foreign policy which Mussolini is constrained to follow in the correct light. The Fiume question was resolved by means of a compromise with Yugoslavia. Threats of war against Yugoslavia have given way to a policy of compromise and reconciliation with this country. Here, too, imperialist nationalism has had to bow before the real facts of foreign politics. The recognition of Soviet Russia also shows that although it is quite possible to conduct an extreme right-wing policy in Italy, the fact of the fascists taking power is not sufficient to extend such a policy onto the international level.
What effect did the recognition of Soviet Russia have on the Italian proletariat? The Italian proletariat has had a fairly good revolutionary education, and didn’t swallow the bait dangled by the fascist press; a press that until the day before had recorded every anti-Bolshevik slander, every fairy tale about Russia, and then all of a sudden, on command, had started to write exactly the opposite: that is, that the communist revolution is no more, that bolshevism is liquidated and that Russia is a bourgeois country like any other; that Italy and Russia share common interests, that Russia and Italy can collaborate, etc. A gross blunder was also made when they said: we stand before two revolutions, two dictatorships, two examples of the same political method of eliminating democracy, which by their very nature must arrive at a parallel action, and so on and so forth. This is an explanation that can only cause hilarity. In reality, what we are talking about here is unadorned capitalist interest. Having been unable to prevent industrial decline due to an unfavourable balance of trade, Italian capitalists became interested in establishing relations with Russia in the search for new markets for their commodities. The Italian proletariat has judged this event as proof of fascism’s weakness, not Soviet Russia’s. I must nevertheless remark that the correct political interpretation of this international event of primary importance for the Italian proletariat has been clouded by an unpleasant incident: some Russian comrades issued statements which in explaining this political event went rather too far, containing as they did declarations of friendship towards Italy that could be interpreted as declarations of friendship towards official Italy, towards Gran Duce Mussolini. This was bound to provoke a certain degree of uneasiness amongst a proletariat which is being persecuted and hunted down by the fascists. If this false step had been avoided, everything else would have met with the full comprehension of the Italian revolutionary proletariat.
We come now to the relations which exist between the fascist party apparatus and the State apparatus under the new government. These relations have raised quite thorny problems the effect of which has been severe crises and continuous conflict within the ranks of fascism. From the very start the internal life of the fascist organisations has been extremely turbulent, but with 700,000 members it is a very large organisation and conflicts are inevitable in an organisation of that size. Nevertheless, the harshness and violence of the internal conflicts within the fascist movement in Italy are exceptional. At the start, the problem of the relations between party and State was resolved in a very imperfect way by placing political commissioners drawn from the ranks of the party alongside the State authorities. These exerted a certain influence over State officials, and therefore had de facto power in their hands. The inevitable outcome, of course, was friction. This method of organisation was then reviewed and the old rights of the state apparatus had to be restored, eliminating the fascist commissaries. But the crisis, which was overcome only with the greatest of difficulty, has not been resolved in a definitive way because within the fascist movement two currents have formed. The first of them, which aims at a revision of extremist fascism, wants to return to legality, and declares: power is in our hands, we have our great leader Mussolini, we can restrict ourselves to governing through the normal and legal exercise of power; the whole state apparatus is at our disposal, we form the government, our Duce is trusted by all parties, therefore, the party does not need to get caught up in administrative matters anymore. This current would like to renounce violent struggle, and the use of illegal means, and get back to normal relations. It tries to influence Mussolini by isolating him from the more extreme fascist elements.
These extremist elements are recruited among the local hierarchs, and they are designated by the Abyssinian term, ’Ras’. ’Rassism’ is for local dictatorships of fascist occupation troops throughout Italy, and indeed it advocates a "second wave" of terror against its opponents. Farinacci, who recently proposed the death penalty for antifascists, is one of its typical representatives.
Between these two extremes, between the tendency which advocates a "second wave" offensive against the opposition, and which says: if Mussolini says that the revolution is not yet accomplished then we must complete it; then we must immediately order (their words) "five minutes of shooting to annihilate all the enemies of fascism, once and for all" – between this tendency, and the one which would prefer better relations between fascism and certain opposition elements, and even with reformists such as the leaders of the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro, Mussolini has, up to now, maintained a certain equilibrium by making shrewd concessions, now to the one side, now to the other. He has restored the old rights to the State apparatus officials but has no intention of renouncing the key support provided by the organisations operating independently from the State apparatus since it is these organisations which sustain the fascist power, and which allow it to defend itself against revolutionary attacks.
Fascism hasn’t dissolved parliament. The old parliament, as I pointed out earlier, was constantly passing votes of confidence in Mussolini and conceding him full powers which granted him everything he asked for. Nevertheless, fascism wanted to modify the electoral law. In Italy the system in place was proportional representation. Fascism wanted to be certain of retaining the majority. I believe this would still have been possible using the machinery of the old electoral system. Even under proportional representation, with polls, fascism would have obtained what it has now. On the basis of the new electoral law, the party list which wins the majority of the votes, and obtains at least 25% of all votes cast, has the right to two thirds of the seats in the new parliament. This means that a quarter of the overall vote is enough to occupy two thirds of the seats, on condition, of course, that another party list doesn’t gain 26% or 27% of the entire vote, in which case the latter list would be awarded the majority. On the majority party’s national list there were 375 names. So in actual fact these deputies have been elected by Mussolini himself since the fact that this list would obtain more than 25% of the vote was in no doubt. A real battle about who would be nominated has broken out inside the fascist party. Around 10 thousand fascist Rases had set their sights on being amongst the 375 elected. It wasn’t even possible to reserve all the posts on the list for fascist candidates.
In the elections a dual tactic was employed. In the North, where fascist organisation is very strong, there was no need for compromise and electoral lists composed exclusively of fascists were put forward. In the South, where fascist organisation is much weaker, they had to compromise and politicians of the old regime were allotted plenty of slots on the national list. Thus some of the candidates would be new men from the ranks of the fascist party, and some would be, for want of a better word, ’traditional’ politicians.
The elections have now taken place and we won’t talk about them in detail. We know that the fascist terror hasn’t yet reached the stage where it is absolutely impossible for the opposition to exercise their vote. The fascist government manoeuvred with a certain dexterity. It knew that by totally removing the opposition vote the elections would have immediately lost all political significance. The government therefore restricted itself to influencing the outcome. Mussolini could now say, "the elections are now over. The vast majority has voted for us; this consensus of the vast majority of the Italian people legitimises our power. One can no longer speak of the rule of a minority".
In order to assess the conduct and the outcome of the elections it is necessary to clearly distinguish between the North and South of Italy. In the North the fascist organisations are very powerful, mainly in the country but also in the industrial towns. Thus up there it can keep an eye on its electorate and check that party members vote they way they are supposed to; in other words, it can almost totally suppress the secret ballot. Certainly the fascists have fought ruthlessly against their adversaries but because they were counting on their own strength they had to let them exercise their right to vote. Therefore in the North fascism only obtained a very small majority (that is, a majority in the true sense of more than 50% rather than the artificial majority of over 25% which they introduced). In some cities, like Milan, it is well known that the fascist national list was in a minority compared to the opposition lists.
In the South on the other hand fascism’s list of candidates collected an overwhelming majority of the votes. The overall number of votes cast in Italy as a whole was 7.3 million, and the fascists obtained 4.7 million of them (3.65 million is half the votes cast; the fascists polled over a million more than that). That is the strangest aspect of the thing.
In the South, apart from a few districts where agrarian conflicts similar to the ones in the Po valley have taken place, a died in the wool fascism has never really existed. Fascism gained a foothold there in the following manner. After the fascists took power the local bourgeois cliques thought it as well to adhere to fascism, in a formal sense, in order to retain their hold over the local administrative machinery and to be able to continue to exploit it. In the South a significant level of fascist organisation doesn’t really exist and yet it is actually in the South, by employing very simple means, that fascism has obtained the overwhelming majority referred to above. Here the elections have been conducted at will; representatives on the rival lists have been chased off, the fascist squads have been organised, granted electoral certificates, and been put at the disposal of the local administration; with every member of these squads voting 30, 40 or even 50 times. Given this situation, Mussolini has been forced to make the extraordinary admission that it was the South of Italy which saved the country; that the most seasoned forces in the battle against revolutionary democracy were to be found in the South; that in 1919 and 1920 it was the South which hadn’t allowed itself be led astray. Thus his previous political interpretation of the Italian situation that the north was the most progressive and civilised part of the country – has been turned on its head. In recent speeches, true, he has gone back to his previous theory and seems to have given up trying to make his pronouncements agree with the official statistical results of the elections. Fascism is extremely weak in the South. In relation to the Matteotti affair one can say in fact that the South has been unanimous in its condemnation of the government. This important fact shows how artificial are the means by which fascism maintains itself in power.
A quick glance, then, at the other parties which participated in the elections. Firstly, before passing to the pro-fascists I want to recall the nationalist party, which is now officially wholly integrated into the fascist party. The nationalist party had been around for a long time before anyone had heard of fascism. It exerted a major influence on the latter’s development, and it was they who equipped fascism with its flimsy theoretical armoury. The right-wing of the Liberals, with Salandra at their head, have also completely merged with fascism and their members were candidates on the fascist list. In order to try and grab some of the seats reserved to the minority other ’liberal’ personalities and groups, not included on the fascist lists, would stand beside them on parallel lists which were also purely fascist.
Alongside the official lists and these parallel lists there were liberal lists of candidates which were unofficially supported by the government. There were also other, not declaredly anti-fascist, lists such as Giolitti’s towards which the government maintained a neutral stance, allowing them to win a few uncontested seats.
Regarding the opposition, we need to focus first of all on the defeat of the various parliamentary parties which composed the ’democracy’, parties which once had such a powerful majority. Bonomi (extreme right-wing social reformist) wasn’t re-elected. Di Cesare and Amendola only managed to salvage a small group of supporters after the Government’s bitter attack against them, and specifically against the latter.
The Popular Party has also suffered a serious defeat. During the old parliament it even took part in the fascist government. Its attitude has always been equivocal. It was only during the struggle against the new electoral law that it made a clean break with Mussolini, who responded by getting rid of the Popolari ministers. The resulting crisis forced the party chief, Don Sturzo, to officially resign (although in fact he still continues to guide party policy). Arising from this there has been a kind of split. A right-wing group, the popolari nazionali, have now left the party and support the fascist list. The main mass of the party follow Don Sturzo as before. The extreme left, headed by Migliori, has also left the party. The agitation he has been conducting in the countryside has been at times closely convergent with the actions of the revolutionary organisations. Inside the party, the influence of the big landowners still predominates in the form of Don Sturzo’s mediatory centrism. The popolari movement has undoubtedly suffered a severe blow.
The peasant party is another small party which is worthy of note. In a couple of districts it put forward its own list of candidates up for election. It is a party composed of discontented small farmers not prepared to entrust the representation of their interests to any of the existing parties, and preferring to form their own party. This movement might well have a future. It could achieve national prominence. The small republican party, which may be considered a semi-proletarian party, is rather confused in its attitude, but it has conducted a very vigourous campaign against the fascist government. It has won two parliamentary seats (in the old house it had five, now it has seven seats).
Then there are the three parties which emerged from the old socialist party: the Unitarian Socialist Party, the Maximalist Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. These parties famously had 150 seats between them when united in one party. Today the unitarians (reformists) have 24 seats, the maximalists, 22, and the communists 19. The communists presented a joint list with the third-internationalist fraction of the maximalist party under the banner of proletarian unity. We can say that the Communist Party was the only one of the opposition parties to return to parliament not only with its former strength intact, but having won new seats. In 1921 we had 15 seats, now we have 19. True, one of the seats is being contested and the final total may be 18 but that is a minor detail.
In addition to the small lists of the German and Slav irredentists, there is a Sardinian party, founded a few years ago in Sardinia, which doesn’t actually go so far as to call for total separation from Italy, but does want increased regional autonomy. We are talking about a movement which wants the State to be decentralised and to be less tied to the Italian State and the Italian nation, and it might prompt parallel movements in other regions which are in an even worse situation. Apparently in Basilicata a similar party is being formed. This movement also has certain links with the purely intellectual one in Turin which publishes Rivoluzione Liberale and advocates liberal and federalist theories. This group is putting up an energetic resistance to fascism, and it has attracted a certain number of sympathisers from amongst intellectuals and the professional classes. As you can see, the opposition is divided up into a lot of small groups. We shall also mention here some of the political currents which don’t take part in elections.
There is, for example, the movement led by D’Annunzio, i.e. a small elite gathered around D’Annunzio, ready to go into battle when its leader gives the signal. However, D’Annunzio’s attitude has been rather contradictory of late. He has been quiet for quite a while. His was a movement born out of the previous middle class and servicemen’s movement which opposed the official mobilisation of the big bourgeoisie and which – since fascism was reneging on its program and pursuing a purely conservative course – set itself apart. Then there is the Italia Libera movement, that is, the anti-fascist opposition within the servicemen’ organisation, who are also seeing their influence grow quite substantially at the moment. Another anti-fascist movement which is quite active is masonry. Fascism has caused a profound crisis in masonry. There has even been a split, although it is not a very significant one: a small group of pro-fascist masons who wanted to leave.
The fascists have carried out a campaign against the masons. Mussolini, as a fascist, got the same decision approved about the incompatibility of masonry and party membership as he did when he was fighting for the socialists back in 1914. Masonry has lost no time in replying vigorously to these attacks. In bourgeois circles abroad it has carried out energetic propaganda campaign against the fascist terror. In Italy too it is conducting educational work amongst the petty bourgeoisie and intellectuals, amongst whom masonry is very influential; and this has not been without a certain effect.
The anarchist movement doesn’t play a very significant role in Italian politics at present. As you can see, the various currents opposed to the powerful fascist majority present a very complicated picture.
But even if this opposition has quite a powerful press, what does it count for in terms of its military and political organisation, that is with regard to the practical possibility of mounting an attack on fascism in the near future? Practically nothing is the answer. It is true that certain groups such as the republicans and the masons would have us believe that they have illegal anti-fascist organisations, but such claims are not to be taken seriously. The only thing that can be taken seriously is the strong opposition current which exists in public opinion and the press. The bourgeois opposition controls a large section of the press. These include some newspapers distributed throughout Italy and which, whilst not declaredly of the opposition, take up a stance which is clearly against fascism. Thus do Milan’s Corriere della Sera and Turin’s La Stampa steer public opinion, above all amongst the average bourgeois, towards a tenacious, albeit mainly vocal, opposition. All this goes to show that dissatisfaction with fascism has grown since the latter took power.
Although accurately defining and classifying the different opposition groups is quite difficult, between the mood of the proletariat and that of the middle classes it is nevertheless possible to draw a very clear line of demarcation.
The proletariat is anti-fascist on the basis of its class consciousness; its sees the struggle against fascism as a mighty battle destined to make radical changes and substitute the revolutionary dictatorship to the fascist dictatorship. The proletariat is seeking revenge, but not in the banal and sentimental sense of the word; it is seeking revenge in a historical sense.
The revolutionary proletariat instinctively understands that the real growth and predomination of the forces of reaction must be opposed by a real counter-offensive of the forces of opposition; the proletariat senses that only after a new period of hard struggles and – if victorious – by means of the proletarian dictatorship, can current reality be radically changed. The proletariat awaits this moment; the moment when, with redoubled zeal born of hard-won experience, it can pay back its class enemy in spades for the pummelling it is having to put up with at the moment.
The anti-fascism of the middle classes is of a less active character. Certainly we have before us an opposition which is strong and sincere, but it is basically pacifist. What they want with all their hearts is to re-establish normal political life in Italy, and complete freedom of speech and debate… but without the use of the cudgel, without having to use violence. Everything should return to normal, both communists and fascists should have the right to profess their beliefs. Aspiring to a certain equilibrium of forces and democratic freedom, this is the illusion of the middle-classes.
These two attitudes, both arising from dissatisfaction with fascism, must be clearly distinguished from each other. The second attitude presents difficulties for our activity which mustn’t be underestimated.
Even amongst the bourgeoisie understood in the strict sense of the word there are doubts about the expediency of the fascist movement. These worries they can express, to a certain extent, in the two newspapers referred to earlier, which are effectively their mouthpiece. They ask themselves: is this the right method? Is it not too drastic? Whilst it is in our class interest to have a machinery in place which can respond to certain requirements, might it not going beyond the functions and aims originally intended? Might it not overstep the mark? The more intelligent strata of the Italian bourgeoisie are for a revision of fascism and its reactionary excesses because they fear these are bound to prompt a revolutionary explosion. Naturally it is in the express interest of the bourgeoisie that these strata of the dominant class are conducting a press campaign against fascism, with the aim of bringing it back onto legal terrain and turning it into a safer and more flexible weapon of class exploitation. They are in favour of the astute policy of making apparent concessions to the proletariat at the same time as they express their enthusiasm for what fascism has done, for the reestablishment of the bourgeois order and for saving its underlying basis, private property. These are views which are nevertheless very influential.
For example, Senator Agnelli, director of the biggest Italian car manufacturing firm and the most powerful of Italian capitalists, is a liberal. But when, as has happened to some of our comrades, too much is made of this fact, the FIAT workers have immediately set us straight, assuring us that reaction rules in the FIAT works exactly the same as in other factories run by capitalists who belong to the fascist party. Agnelli is, after all, a tycoon who is very clever businessman. He knows it would be dangerous to provoke the working masses; he remembers the difficult moments he went through when the workers occupied his factories and hoisted up the red flag; he therefore gives benevolent advice to fascism on how to conduct the battle against the proletariat in a more astute way. And fascism is evidently not deaf to such advice.
Before the Matteotti affair, fascism had taken a turn to the left. On the eve of Matteotti’s assassination, Mussolini gave a speech in which he addressed the opposition. He said: "You form the new parliament. We have never needed elections; we could have exercised dictatorial power, but we still preferred to address the people, and you should recognise that the people have responded today by fully supporting us with an overwhelming majority". And actually it was Matteotti who challenged this by declaring that from a democratic and constitutional point of view fascism had been defeated, the government had been placed in the minority, and that its majority was contrived and misleading. Fascism of course refused to recognise this. Mussolini argued: "Based on the official figures, we have the majority. I will now address the opposition. Opposition can be expressed in two ways. First; the communist way. To these gentlemen we have nothing to say. They are completely logical. Their objective is to overthrow us one day through the use of revolutionary violence and install the dictatorship of the proletariat. To them we respond: we will only succumb to a superior force. You want to risk taking us on? Go ahead! To the other opposition groups we say: the employment of revolutionary violence is not contemplated in your programme: you aren’t preparing an insurrection against us; what do you want then? How do you propose to take power? The law has given us five years as the legislature of this House. And new elections would produce the same result. Surely the best thing, then, is to come to an agreement. Maybe we have overdone it, maybe we have overstepped the mark. We have used illegal methods which I am trying to prevent happening again. I am inviting you to collaborate! Make your proposals! Expound your thoughts! We will find a middle way". It was a call for collaboration with all the non-revolutionary opposition groups. Only the communists were excluded from Mussolini’s offer. He has declared that an agreement with the CGIL might be possible because the latter isn’t on the terrain of the demagogic theory of revolution, because bolshevism would by now be liquidated, etc.
That’s how things stood, the attitude taken by Mussolini showing what a force the anti-fascist opposition had become. The government could see that it needed to take a left turn. Then came the bombshell. The Matteotti affair caused the situation in Italy to completely change. The facts are well-known: one day, Matteotti the parliamentary deputy disappears. For two days his family await his return in vain. Then they turn to the police. The latter allege they know nothing. After the newspapers publish reports about Matteotti’s disappearance, eye witnesses describe seeing him being attacked in the street by five individuals and bundled into a car, which then shoots off at great speed.
Public opinion was in an uproar. Maybe Matteotti was being kept prisoner, maybe it was the terrorist act of a lone individual. Just that, or something worse? Maybe an assassination?
The government was urged to respond. Mussolini declared immediately: we will track down the guilty. A few arrest were made; but before long it became common knowledge that Matteotti had been killed by members of a fascist squad linked to the party’s terroristic organisation. The fascists immediately took this line: it’s a case of a regrettable gesture on the part of the illegal current we are fighting against, and against which Mussolini has always fought. It is an individual act, a common crime. We will take action against the guilty. But public opinion wasn’t too happy about it. The entire press hastened to show that the motive for the crime couldn’t be purely personal, that the assassins were actually part of a secret league, a type of black band, that had already on other occasions committed similar crimes; crimes which had remained unpunished because they hadn’t had the same repercussions as the murder of Matteotti. More and more people were accused. Key figures in the regime started to be attacked. It has been proved that the car in question was provided by the extremist-fascist mouthpiece Corriere Italiano. A member of the ’Directory of Four’ Cesare Rossi, was accused; Aldo Finzi, the deputy minister of internal affairs was accused. Various well-known fascists were arrested. The anti-fascists conducted a violent press campaign.
So the question is: who is responsible for the murder? Because it is undoubtedly a murder we are talking about, even if the body still hasn’t been found. Is it a crime of political fanaticism, a political crime, the result of a vendetta against Matteotti because of his speeches against fascism in the Chamber of Deputies? Or is it just a case of an Executive organ’s mistake? The latter hypothesis, I would say, isn’t ruled out. It is possible that Matteotti had to be held prisoner for a few days, and then, when he put up resistance, he was killed by the bandits who kidnapped him. Or are we dealing with something even more suspicious? It is said that Matteotti had in his possession certain documents relating to the corruption of several members of the fascist government, and he wanted to publish them. Maybe that was the reason they wanted to eliminate him? The latter hypothesis isn’t very likely. Matteotti wouldn’t have been so imprudent as to carry such documents around with him, and even if he had, there certainly would have been copies. Nevertheless, in the course of the press campaign, it has been established that the Ministry of Internal Affairs has become a business centre in which Italian and foreign capitalists can purchase a range of concessions from the government. There has been talk of large sums of money being salted away by senior officials. One example is the Sinclair case, that is, the oil treaty which awarded a foreign company a monopoly of oil extraction in Italy. It is even said that the casino in Monte Carlo dispensed an enormous sum in order to push through the law restricting licenses for gaming houses in Italy. Following these allegations the fascists even forced Finzi to immediately hand in his resignation. The question remains open: are we dealing with a political crime in the strict sense or a crime prompted by the need to silence witnesses to the moral corruption of the fascist government? Whatever is the case, the approaches of the bourgeois opposition and the communist opposition to the two possibilities are very different.
What does the bourgeois opposition say? For them it is just a judicial case. It wants the government to punish the guilty. Its perspective is that the government shouldn’t just restrict itself to establishing who was directly involved in the murder; the judiciary must cast light on the entire affair, calling the highly placed persons implicated in the affair, and maybe even members of the government, to account. For example, General de Bono, supreme chief of police, has been accused of being involved in the murder, and has been forced to resign. This shows to what level of the fascist hierarchy the responsibility reaches. After all, De Bono is one of the main leaders of the ’National Militia’.
Thus the bourgeois opposition considers the entire question as a legal matter, as a question of political morality, of the reestablishment in the country of social peace and tranquillity, and it asserts that the terror and other similar acts of violence must stop. For us, on the other hand, it is a political and historical question, a question of class struggle, a crude but necessary consequence of the capitalist offensive to defend the Italian bourgeoisie. The responsibility for the fact that such horrors are possible lies with the entire fascist party. With the entire government, the entire Italian bourgeois class and its regime. It needs to be openly proclaimed that only the revolutionary activity of the proletariat can liquidate such a situation; a situation which shows that such symptoms cannot be cured by purely legal means, with the philistine reestablishment of law and order. In pursuance of such an aim the urgent matter becomes instead the destruction of the existing order, a complete overthrow which only the proletariat can see through to the end. Initially the communists would unite in protest with the parliamentary opposition in the Chamber of Deputies. However very soon it was necessary to draw a line of demarcation between our opposition and theirs, and communists haven’t participated in the latest declarations of the other parties.
Even the maximalists are represented in the committee of the parliamentary opposition; apropos which we need to point out a very characteristic event. The CP, as a protest action against the Matteotti murder, had immediately proposed a countrywide general strike in Italy. Spontaneous strikes had already broken out in a number of cities which show that the proposal was serious and practical.
The other parties, with the approval of the maximalists, instead proposed a ten minute strike as a protest action in honour of Matteotti. But the reformists, maximalists, CGIL and other opposition groups would suffer the great misfortune of having the industrial confederations and fascist trade unions immediately accepting the proposal, and officially joining with the opposition! Thus, of course, did the protest lose any trace of class significance. Today it is as clear as daylight that the communists were the only ones to make a proposal which would have allowed the proletariat to influence events in a decisive way.
What is the outlook for the Mussolini Government in the present situation? Before the latest events occurred, we had been forced to recognise, despite striking evidence of a growing discontent with fascism, that its military and State organisation was nevertheless powerful enough to prevent the appearance of a force capable of working practically for the overthrow of fascism in the near future. Discontent was growing, but we were still a long way from a crisis situation.
Recent events provide a striking example of how small causes determine great effects. The Matteotti murder sped up the developing situation to an extraordinary degree, even if, of course, social conditions already meant the premises of this development existed in latent form. The rhythm of the fascist crisis has been greatly accelerated. The fascist government has suffered a damaging defeat from the moral, psychological, and, in a certain sense, also from the political point of view. This defeat hasn’t yet had repercussions at the level of the political, military and administrative organisation, but it is clear that a moral and political defeat such as this is the first step towards a further unravelling of the crisis and the struggle for power. The government has had to make notable concessions, such as surrendering the internal affairs portfolio to the old nationalist chief, now a fascist, Federzoni. Other concessions have also been made too, but fascism still keeps power firmly in its hands. In his speeches to the Senate, Mussolini has openly declared that he will hold on to his post and deploy all the means of power at his disposal against anyone who attacks him.
According to the latest news the wave of public indignation has still not abated. However the situation has become objectively more stable. The National Militia which was mobilised two days after the Matteotti murder has already been demobilised, and its members have returned to their usual occupations. This indicates that the government perceives the immediate danger as having passed. But that major upheavals could happen in the very near future looks far more of a possibility than it did before the Matteotti crisis.
What is nevertheless clear is that in future fascism will be in much more difficult position and that the practical possibilities for future anti-fascist action, depending on what happens in the intervening period, are now different than before.
* * *
How should we respond to this new situation which has so unexpectedly arisen? I will give a systematic outline of my view.
The CP must emphasise the independent role which the situation in Italy has assigned to it, and issue watchwords with the following content: liquidation of the anti-fascist opposition groups and their substitution with the direct and open action of the communist movement. Today we are faced with events which are causing the spotlight of public interest to focus on the CP. For a while after the taking of power by the fascists there were mass arrests of our comrades. It was said then that the communist and Bolshevik forces had been annihilated, dispersed; that the revolutionary movement had been completely liquidated. But for quite a while after the elections and other events, the party has been giving signs of life which are far too strong to support these assertions. In all his speeches Mussolini is compelled to refer to the communists. In the controversy over the Matteotti case the fascist press has to defend itself every day and take up a position against the communists.
This causes attention to be focussed on our party, and on its particular duty of retaining its independence from all the other closely linked opposition groups. Our party, having taken up its particular standpoint, draws a clear line of demarcation between itself and these other groups. Besides, thanks to its experience of class struggle in Italy during and after the war and thanks also to the bitter disillusionment it has suffered, the Italian proletariat knows that there needs to be a complete liquidation of all the social-democratic currents, from the bourgeois left to the proleterian right, and this awareness is firmly entrenched. All these currents have had the practical possibility of taking action and proving themselves. Experience has shown that none of them are up to the task. The vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat, the communist party, is the only one which is has refused to give up.
But in order to be able to follow an independent political line, it is absolutely indispensable that defeatism be expunged from the party. We cannot tell Italian proletarians, who have faith in the party and in its strength, that the actions attempted by communists up to now add up to failure and lack of success!
If our practice shows that the party can organise the struggle and implement an autonomous tactic of its own; if our practice shows that the party lives on as the unique opposition party; if we can issue appropriate watchwords which indicate a practical way of going on the offensive, it is then that we will achieve our aim of liquidating the opposition groups, and primarily the socialists and the maximalists. That is the direction we should go in, in my opinion, in order to take advantage of the present situation.
In order to work toward that we shouldn’t however restrict ourselves to polemics; practical work needs to be done to conquer the masses. The purpose of this work is the unitary joining together of the masses for revolutionary action, the united front of the proletariat of city and country under the leadership of the communist party. Only with this unitary joining together will we have achieved the condition which allows us to engage in the direct struggle with fascism. This is a major task which can and must be carried out whilst retaining the party’s independence.
It is possible, following the Matteotti affair, that fascism will unleash a "second wave" of terror, a new offensive against the opposition. But this will just be another episode in the escalating situation. We might see the opposition retreating and a decline in the public expression of discontent as a result of this new terror. In time, however, discontent will start to build up again and so will the opposition. Fascism cannot hold on to power by means of continuous, incessant pressure. Another possibility however exists: the working masses being brought together on the initiative of the CP under the banner of the reconstitution of the red trade unions. Maybe it will soon be possible to begin this task.
The opportunists don’t dare undertake this task. There are cities in Italy where we could be assured of success if we invited the workers to rejoin the red unions. But since this return would at the same time be a sign of struggle, because we would have to be ready at the same time to fight the fascists, the opportunist parties have been in no hurry to reconstitute the proletariat’s mass organisations. If the CP were the first to take advantage of the favourable moment and issue this watchword, there would be the possibility of the Italian labour movement reorganising around the CP at its centre.
Even before the situation created by the Matteotti affair, our independent stance was the best manoeuvre we could have performed. For example, during the elections even non-communist elements voted for communist candidates because they saw in communism what they would refer to as the clearest and most radical form of anti-fascism, the clearest rejection of what they hated. Our independent position is therefore a means to exercise a political influence even on those strata which aren’t directly linked to us. It is precisely to the fact that we have presented ourselves with a univocal programme that we owe the CP’s major success in the elections, despite the government offensive unleashed primarily against our candidates and our electoral campaign. We officially campaigned under the slogan " Proletarian Unity", but the masses gave us their votes because we were communists, because we openly declared war on fascism, because the our adversaries defined us as irreconcilable. This stance has ensured us notable successes.
The same goes for the Matteotti incident. All eyes are turned on the Communist Party, which speaks a language which is completely different to any other opposition party. From which it follows that only an entirely independent and radical stance towards not only fascism but also the opposition will allow us to take advantage of current developments in order to overthrow the monstrous power of fascism.
A similar work must be carried out to win over the peasant masses. We need to elaborate a form of organisation of the peasantry which will allow us to work not only amongst waged farm labourers, who essentially take the same line as industrial wage earners, but also amongst tenant farmers, small-holders, etc., within the organisations which defend their interests. The economic situation is such that no amount of pressure will be able to prevent the formation of such organisations. We need to try and raise this issue with the small peasant proprietors, and put forward a clear programme which addresses their oppression and expropriation. We need to represent a clean break with the ambiguous stance taken by the Socialist party in this field. We need to utilise the existing currents in order to form peasant organisations, and direct them onto the road of the defence of the economic interests of the rural population. Indeed if these organisations are transformed into electoral machines, they will fall into the hands of bourgeois agitators, politicians and advocates of the small towns and villages. If we manage instead to breathe life into an organisation for the defence of the economic interests of the peasantry (not a trade union, because in theory the idea of a trade union of small proprietors encounters serious objections), we would have an association at our disposal within which we could carry out group work, which would be influenced by us, and within which we could find a point of support for the coalition of the rural and urban proletariat under the sole direction of the Communist Party.
This is not a terrorist programme which is being presented. Legends have been created around us. It has been said that we actually want to be a minority party, to be a small elite and so on and so forth. We have never supported such notions. If there is one movement, both through its critique and tactics, which has worked relentlessly to destroy any illusions about terrorist minorities spread about by ultra-anarchists and syndicalists, that movement is our party. We have always been opposed to that tendency, and it really is turning things on their head to portray us as terrorists and supporters of actions by armed, heroic minorities and all that goes with it!
We do however take the view that as regards the problem of the disarmament of the white guards and the arming of the proletariat, a topic of much concern to the party today, it is necessary to take a clear and principled stand.
Certainly a struggle is possible if the masses take part in it. The majority of the proletariat knows full well that an attack by a heroic vanguard will not resolve matters. The latter is an ingenuous solution, and should be rejected by all Marxist parties. However, if we go to the masses with the watchword of disarmament of the white guards and arming of the proletariat, these same working masses have to be presented in an active role. We must dispel the illusion that a "transitional government" would ever be so naïve as to allow the bourgeois positions to be outflanked by legal means, by parliamentary manoeuvring and by clever expedients, in other words, would allow a legal taking possession of the entire technical and military machinery of the bourgeoisie and the peaceful distribution of arms to the proletariat; and with that done, have us quietly give the signal to revolt. This really is a silly and childish idea! Launching a revolution isn’t that easy!
We are absolutely convinced of the impossibility of embarking on the struggle with a few hundred or so, or even a few thousand armed communists. The CP of Italy is the last one to succumb to such illusions. We are firmly convinced of the absolute necessity of drawing the great masses into the struggle; but getting armed is a problem that can only be resolved by revolutionary means. We can take advantage of the slowing down of fascism’s development by creating revolutionary proletarian formations. But we have to destroy the illusion that manoeuvres of any kind may one day put us in such a position that we could take over the bourgeoisie’s technical and military machinery, in other words, tie our enemies’ hands in order to later go on and attack them.
To fight an illusion which induces in the proletariat a sense of revolutionary apathy isn’t terrorism; on the contrary it is a stance which is genuinely Marxist and revolutionary. We are not saying that we are the communist "élite", and that we want to overturn the social equilibrium with the action of a small minority. Not at all, we want to conquer the leadership of proletarian masses, we want unity in proletarian action; but we also do want to utilise the experiences of the Italian proletariat, and these have taught us that struggles which are led by a non-consolidated party – even if it is a mass party, or one composed of an improvised coalition of parties – leads necessarily to defeat. We want a joint struggle of the working masses of the city and country, but we want this struggle to be led by a general staff with a clear political line, i.e., the communist party.
This is the problem we are confronting.
The situation will unfold in a way which is more or less complicated, but there already exists the premises for the issuing of watchwords and agitation around the CP initiating and guiding the revolution and declaring openly that it is necessary to march forward over the ruins of the existing anti-fascist opposition groups. The proletariat must be warned that when the taking of power by the working class in Italy presents itself as a real danger to the capitalist class, all the bourgeois and social-democratic forces will align around fascism. These are the prospects for the battle which we must prepare for in advance.
To conclude, I want to add a few words on fascism as an international phenomenon, based on the experiences we have had in Italy.
We believe that fascism wants to spread beyond Italy as well. Similar movements in other countries, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, and maybe also in Germany, have probably been supported by Italian fascism. But if it is certainly true that the proletariat of the entire world need to understand and utilise the lessons learnt about fascism in Italy, in case similar movements are formed in other countries as means of fighting the workers, one shouldn’t however forget that in Italy there existed some particular presuppositions which allowed the fascist movement to become such a gigantic force. First and foremost amongst these presuppositions I will recall national and religious unity.
To get the middle classes to mobilise around fascism I now believe that both presuppositions are indispensable. A sentimentalist mobilisation has to be based both on national and religious unity. Evidently the formation of a large fascist party in Germany would come up against the presence of two different religious confessions, and different nationalities with tendencies which are in part separatist. In Italy, Fascism found exceptionally favourable premises. Italy was among the victorious States, and whilst an overcharged state of chauvinism and patriotism existed there, at the same time the material advantages of victory were less in evidence. Strictly connected to this factor is the defeat of the proletariat. The middle classes bided their time for a while to see whether or not the proletariat would be powerful enough to win. When the revolutionary parties of the proletariat showed their impotence, the middle classes then believed they could act independently and take the government into their own hands. In the meantime, the big bourgeoisie took the opportunity to subjugate these forces and to yoke them to the cart of its own interests.
Based on these facts, I don’t believe we should yet expect to appear in other countries a fascism as open and blatant as the one in Italy; a fascism in the sense of a unitary movement of the upper strata of the exploiters and of a mobilisation of a large majority of the middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie in the interest of those strata. Fascism in other countries is different than in Italy. In these countries it is just a petty-bourgeois movement, with a reactionary ideology which is purely petty bourgeois and with some armed formations; a movement which however isn’t completely identified with big business and particularly the State machine. This State machine can rather enter into coalition with the parties of big business, the major banks and large landed property, but towards the middle class and the petty bourgeoisie, it more or less retains its independence. Clearly this kind of fascism is an enemy of the proletariat as well. But it is a much less dangerous enemy than Italian fascism.
The question of relations with such a movement is, as far as I’m concerned, fully resolved: it is madness to think of having any kind of link with it. Such a movement in fact offers the basis for a counter-revolutionary political mobilisation of the semi-proletarian masses. If the actual proletariat were to be brought to act on the same basis it would present grave dangers.
In general terms we can expect abroad a copy of Italian fascism which will hybridise with the various manifestations of the "democratic and pacifist wave". But fascism will take different forms to that in Italy. The reaction and capitalist offensive of the various strata in conflict with the proletariat will not submit to such a unitary direction.
Much has been said about the foreign organisations of Italian anti-fascism. These organisations have been created by bourgeois Italian émigrés. How Italian fascism is viewed by international public opinion, and the propaganda campaign conducted against it by civilised countries, is also on the order of the day. This moral indignation by the bourgeoisie of other countries is even seen as a means of liquidating the fascist movement.
Communists and revolutionaries mustn’t give in to this illusion of the democratic and moral sensitivity of the bourgeoisie of other countries. Even where pacifist and left-wing tendencies still exist today, tomorrow there will have no scruples about using fascism as a weapon in the class struggle. We know that the exploits of fascism in Italy and the campaign of terror it has conducted there against the workers can only give cause for rejoicing to international capital.
In the fight against fascism it is only the revolutionary proletarian International which can be depended upon. It is a question of class struggle. We don’t turn for help to the democratic parties of other countries, or to associations of idiots and hypocrites like the League of the Rights of Man, because we don’t want to give succour to the illusion that they differ in some substantial way from fascism, or that the bourgeoisie in other countries isn’t just as capable of preparing for its own working class the same persecutions, and carrying out the same atrocities, as fascism in Italy.
If there is to be an uprising against Italian fascism and a campaign against the terror in our country, there is only one force to be counted on: the revolutionary forces in Italy and abroad. It needs the workers of every land to boycott the Italian fascists. Those of our comrades who have been persecuted and exiled abroad in the course of the struggle will not be indifferent to this battle, nor to the creation amongst the proletariat of an international anti-fascist state of mind. The reaction and terror in Italy should arouse a class hatred, a proletarian counter-offensive which will give rise to an international convergence of the revolutionary forces on a world scale against international fascism, and against all the other forms of bourgeois oppression.