From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 111, 13 December 1922, pp. 907–912.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive
I will deal with the question raised by Comrade Radek yesterday as to the attitude of the Communist Party towards fascism.
Our comrade criticized the attitude of our Party on the question of Fascism, which is the dominant political question in Italy. He criticized our point of view – our alleged point of view – which is supposed to consist of a desire to have a small party and to limit the consideration of all questions solely to the aspect of Party organization and their immediate importance, without going any farther into the larger questions at issue.
I will try to be brief, on account of the time limit, with these few remarks I will start my report.
The Origin of the Fascist Movement
The origin of the Fascist movement may be traced back to the years 1914–1915, to the period which preceded the intervention of Italy in the world war, when the foundation for this movement was laid down by the groups which supported intervention. From a political point of view, these groups were made up of several tendencies. There was a group of the right, led by Salandra and the big industrialists, which were interested in the war and which had even supported the war against the Entente before the decision to fight on the side of the Entente. On the other hand, there are also the tendencies of the left wing of the bourgeoisie, the Italian radicals, i.e., the democrats of the left, the republicans who had been by tradition in favor of liberating Trieste and Trento. Finally, the interventionist movement included also certain elements of the proletarian movement: revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists From a point of view of personalities, it is worth mentioning that the movement was joined by the leader of the Left Wing of the Socialist Party, Mussolini – the manager of Avanti.
It may be stated approximately, that the Center groups did not participate in the formation of the fascist movement, but returned to their traditional bourgeois political parties. The only groups which remained were those of the extreme Right and those of the extreme Left, i.e., the ex-anarchists, the ex-syndicalists and former revolutionary syndicalists.
These political groups which in May 1915 scored a big victory in forcing Italy into the war, against the will of the majority of the country and even of parliament lost their influence when the war was brought to a close. Already during the war one could foresee the inevitable waning of the influence of the interventionists.
They had represented the war as a very easy enterprise, and when the war became prolonged, they lost their popularity. Indeed, one might doubt whether they were ever popular.
In the period that followed immediately after the war, we saw the influence of these groups reduced to a minimum.
From the end of 1918 to the first half of 1920, the period of demobilization and slump, this political tendency was completely defeated owing to discontent caused by the consequences of the war.
Nevertheless, from the viewpoint of political organization, we may connect the origin of the movement which seemed insignificant at first with the formidable movement which we see to-day.
The “fasci di combattimento” did not disband. Mussolini remained the leader of the fascist movement, and their paper Il Popolo d’Italia, continued to be published.
At the elections in Milan in October 1919, the Fascisti were completely defeated, in spite of having their daily newspaper and their political chief. They obtained a ridiculously low number of votes; nevertheless, they continued their activities.
The proletarian revolutionary and socialist movement which was considerably strengthened by the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses after the war, did not make full use of the favorable situation, for reasons I need not go into now.
The revolutionary tendencies lacked the backing of a revolutionary organization and of a party that would lend them permanence and stability, and thus the favorable psychological and objective circumstances were not utilized. I do not assert – as Comrade Zinoviev accused me of saying – that the Socialist Party could bring about the revolution in Italy, but at least it ought to have been capable of solidly organizing the revolutionary forces of the working masses. It proved unequal to the task.
We have seen how the anti-war Socialist tendency has lost popularity which it enjoyed in Italy.
To the extent that the Socialist movement failed to take advantage of the situation and the crisis in social life in Italy, the opposite movement of fascism began to grow.
Fascism benefited above all by the crisis which ensued in the economic situation and the influence of which was begun to be felt in the labor organizations.
Thus the fascist movement at a most trying period found support in the D’Annunzio expedition to Fiume. The Fiume expedition in a sense gave to fascism its moral support, and even the tracking of its organization and its armed forces, although the D’Annunzio movement and the fascist movement were not the same thing.
We have spoken of the attitude of the proletarian socialist movement; the International has repeatedly criticized its mistakes. The consequence of these mistakes was a complete change in the state of mind of the bourgeoisie and the other classes. The proletariat became disorganized and demoralized. In view of the failure to win the victory that was within its grasp, the state of mind of the working class changed considerably. One might say that in 1919 and in the first half of 1920 the Italian bourgeoisie to a certain extent became resigned to the idea of having to see the triumph of the revolution. The middle class and the petty bourgeoisie were ready to play a passive part, not in the wake of the big bourgeoisie, but in the wake of the proletariat which was to march on to victory.
This state of mind has undergone a complete change. Instead of submitting to a victory of the proletariat, we see on the contrary how the bourgeoisie is organized for defense.
The middle class became discontented when it saw that the Socialist Party was unable to organize in such a manner as to gain the upper hand; and losing confidence in the proletarian movement, it turned to the opposite side.
it was then that the capitalist offensive of the bourgeoisie started. This offensive was to a certain extent the result of capable exploitation of the state of mind of the middle class. Fascism by reason of its heterogeneous character offered a solution of the problem, and for this reason it was chosen to lead this offensive of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism.
The Italian example is a classical one for the capitalist offensive. It represents, as Comrade Radek told us yesterday from this platform, a complex phenomenon which should be considered not only from the standpoint of reduced wages and longer hours, but also from the general standpoint of political and military action of the bourgeoisie against the working class.
In Italy during the period of the development of Fascism we saw all the manifestations of the capitalist offensive.
Our Communist Party – from the moment of its inception – consistently criticized the situation and pointed out the necessity of united defense against the bourgeois offensive. It advocated a united proletarian plan of defense against this offensive.
To get a full view of the capitalist offensive; we must examine the situation in its various aspects, in the industrial as well as in the agrarian field.
In the industrial field the capitalist offensive in the first place exploits the direct effects of the economic crisis. The economic crisis caused the shutting down of a number of factories, and the employers had the opportunity of discharging the more extreme elements of the organized workers. The industrial crisis furnished the employers with a good pretext for cutting down wages and taking back the disciplinary and moral concessions which they had been forced to make to the factory workers.
At the beginning of this crisis we saw in Italy the formation of a General Confederation of Industry, an association of the employing class which took the lead in this fight against the workers and submitted every individual employer to their discipline. In the large cities it is impossible to start the fight against the working class by the immediate use of violence. The workers of the cities are generally organized in groups; they can easily gather in a large mass and put up a serious resistance. The employers therefore started by provoking the proletariat into actions that were bound to end unfavorably for them, because the economic struggle in the industrial field was to transport the activity of the movement from the trade unions to the revolutionary domain, under the dictates of a political party which was really communist; but the Socialist Party was nothing of the sort.
At the decisive moment of the situation the Socialist Party proved incapable of giving a revolutionary lead to the action of the Italian proletariat. The period of the great success of the Italian labor organization in the fight for the amelioration of the workers’ conditions gave place to the new period in which the strikes became defensive strikes on the part of the working class, and defeats became the order of the day.
At the same time the revolutionary movement of the agrarian classes and what is as great importance, the agricultural laborers and other peasant elements which are not completely proletarian, compelled the ruling classes to seek a way, a means of combating the influence acquired by the Red organizations in the rural districts.
In a great part of Italy, the most important agricultural districts of the Po valley, a state of affairs prevailed which closely resembled a local dictatorship of the proletariat or of the groups of agricultural laborers. The communes, captured by the Socialist Party at the close of 1920 carried on a policy of imposing local taxes on the agrarian bourgeoisie and the middle class. The trade unions flourished, very important cooperative organizations and numerous sections of the Socialist Party grew up. Even in those places where the movement was in the hands of men who were reformists, by instinct; the working class movement in the rural districts took a definite revolutionary trend. The employers were even forced to deposit sums of money to guarantee the carrying out of the agreements imposed by the trade union struggle.
A situation was reached where the agricultural bourgeoisie could no longer live on their estates and had to seek refuge in the cities.
Certain errors were committed by the Italian socialists, especially on the question of occupying the vacated lands and the tendency of the small farmers who after the war began to buy up land in order to become big proprietors.
The reformist organizations compelled these small farmers io remain somewhat the slaves of the movement of the agricultural laborers, and in this situation the fascist movernent managed to find important support.
In the domain of agriculture there was no crisis of such dimensions that would enable the landed proprietors to wage a successful counter-offensive on the basis of the simple economic struggles of the laborers. It was here that the Fascisti began to introduce their methods of physical violence, of armed brutal force, finding support in the rural proprietor data and exploiting the discontent created among the agricultural middle classes by the blunders of the Socialist Party and the reformists. Fascism benefited also by the general situation which daily increased the discontent among all. These groups of petty-bourgeois and petty merchants, of petty proprietors and returned soldiers, of ex-officers disappointed in their lot after the glories of war.
All these elements were exploited and organized, and this was the beginning of this movement of destruction of the Red organizations in the rural districts of Italy.
The method employed by Fascism is rather peculiar. Having got together all the demobilized elements which could find no place for themselves in postwar society, it made full use of their military experience. Fascism began to form its military organizations, not in the big industrial cities, but in those which may be considered as the capitals of Italian agricultural regions like Bologna and Florence, thanks to support of the State authorities of whom we will yet speak later on. The Fascists possessed arms, means of transportation, assured immunity of the law, and they took advantage of these favorable conditions while they were still less numerous than their revolutionary adversaries.
The mode of action is somewhat as follows. They invade a little country place, they destroy the headquarters of the proletarian organizations, they force the municipal council to resign at the point of the bayonet, they would assault or murder those who opposed them or, at best, force them to quit the district. The local workers were powerless to resist such a concentration of armed forces backed by the police. The local fascist groups which could pot previously fight by themselves against the proletariat forces have now became the masters of the situation, because the local workers and peasants have been terrorized and were afraid of taking any action for fear that the Fascist expedition might return with even greater forces al their command.
Fascism thus proceeded to the conquest of a dominant position in Italian politics in a sort of territorial campaign, which might be traced on a map.
The Fascist campaign started out from Bologna, where is September – October 1922 a socialist administration was the occasion for a great mobilization of the red forces.
Several incidents took place: the meeting of the municipal council was broken up by provocation from without. Shots were fired at the benches occupied by the bourgeois minority probably by some agents-provocateurs.
That was the first grand attack made by the Fascists.
From now on militant reaction overran the country, putting the torch to proletarian clubs and maltreating their leaders. In their dastardly work they enjoyed the full backing of the police and the authorities. The terror started at Bologna on the historic date of November 21, 1920, when the Municipal Council of Bologna was prevented by violence from assuming its powers.
From Bologna Fascism moved along a route which we cannot outline here in detail, but we may say that it went in two chief geographical directions, on the one hand towards the industrial triangle of the Nord-West, viz. Milan, Turin and Genoa, and on the other hand towards Toscana and the Center of Italy, in order to encircle and lay siege to the Capital. It was clear from the outset that the South of Italy could not give birth to a Fascist movement any more than to a great sociaist movement.
Fascism is so little of a movement of the backward part of the bourgeoisie that it could not make its first appearance in Southern Italy, but rather in those districts where the proletarian movement was more developed and the class struggle was more in evidence.
Having just described the prime elements of Fascism, how are we to interpret the Fascist movement? Is it purely as agrarian movement. That we would not say, although the movement originated in the rural districts. Fascism could not be considered as the independent movement of a single group of the bourgeoisie, as the organization of the agrarian interests in opposition to the industrial capitalists. Besides, Fascism has formed its political as well as military organization also in the large cities, even in those provinces where it had to confine its violent actions to the rural districts.
We have seen it in the Italian parliament, where the Fascists formed a parliamentary faction after having precipitated the parliamentary elections of 1921, which did not prevent be formation of an agrarian party independently of the Fascisti.
During recent events we have seen that the industrial employers have supported the Fascisti. A deciding factor in the new situation was furnished by a recent declaration of the General Confederation of Industry in favor of entrusting to Mussolini the formation of a new Cabinet.
But a more striking phenomenon in this respect is the appearance of Fascist Syndicalism.
The Fascists have taken advantage of the fact, which we already mentioned, that the socialists never had an agrarian policy and that the interests of certain elements of the countryside which are not purely proletarian are in opposition to those of the socialists.
Fascism was an armed movement which employed all methods of the most brutal violence. It also knew how to employ the most callous methods of demagogy. The Fascisti endeavored to form class organizations among the peasants and even among the agricultural laborers. In a certain sense it even opposed the landlords; we have examples of the syndicalist struggle, led by Facisti, which resembled greatly the old methods of Red organization.
We cannot consider this Fascist syndicalism, which works through the use of force and terror, as an anti-capitalist struggle, but neither can we on the other hand draw the conclusion that Fascism, in an immediate sense is a movement of the agricultural employers The fact is that Fascism is a great united movement of the dominant class, which is capable of using for its final aims any and all means, martial interests, and the local interests of certain groups of employers, agricultural and industrial.
The proletariat has not properly understood the necessity of forming a united single organization for the common struggle, by sacrificing the immediate interests of small groups. It has not yet succeeded in solving this problem. The ruling class created an organization which should defend its power; this organization was completely in its hands and it followed the plan of the capitalist anti-proletarian offensive.
Fascism participated in unionism. Why? In order to take part in the class struggle? Never! The Fascisti took part in the union movement, saying all economic interests have the right to organize; one can form associations of workers, peasants, business men, capitalists, land owners, etc. They can organize on the same principle. But all organizations should, in their activities be subordinate to the national interest, national production, national prestige, etc.
This is nothing but a class truce, and not a class struggle. All interests are directed towards a certain national unity, this national unity – is nothing more than the counter-revolutionary conservation of the bourgeois state and its institutions. In the make-up of Fascism, I believe that we can count three principal factors: the state, the capitalist class, and the middle class. The State is the principal constituent of Fascism.
The news of the successive government crises in Italy have led one to believe that the Italian capitalist class possessed a State apparatus which was so unstable that it could be made to fall at one blow.
This is not at all the case. Just at the period when its State apparatus was consolidated, the Italian bourgeoisie formed the Fascist organization.
In the period immediately folowing the war, the Italian State underwent a crisis. Demobilization was the obvious reason for this crisis. Numbers of those who had taken part in the war were suddenly thrown into the Labor market, and at this critical period, the State machine, which had previously been organized to its highest pitch to resist the foreign enemy, now had suddenly to transform itself into the defensive machinery guarding capitalist interests against internal revolution. This is a formidable task for the bourgeoisie. They could not solve this problem of the struggle against the proletariat in a military of technical manner; it had to be done by political means.
Therefore we see the radical government of the postwar period; that of Nitti and that of Giolitti.
It was just the policy of these two politicians which rendered the subsequent victory of Fascism inevitable. They started by making concessions to the working class in the period when the State mechanism had to be consolidated. Fascism came afterwards; the Fascist criticism of this government which they accuse of cowardice in the face of the revolutionaries is merely demagogic rhetoric.
As a matter of fact, the Fascist victory has been possible precisely because of the first cabinets of the pre-war period.
Nitti and Giolitti made certain concessions to the working class. They acceded to certain demands of the Socialist Party: demobilization, a democratic regime and amnesty for deserters. They made these concessions, in order to gain time to reestablish their State on a solid basis. It was Nitti who organized the “Royal Guard” an organization not purely of the police type but of the new type, the militarists. One of the great errors of the. reformist socialists was in not having considered a fundamental problem the question which they could even have presented on constitutional grounds, the fact that the State was forming an auxiliary army. This point was not grasped by the socialists who regarded Nitti as the man with whom they could very well collaborate in a Left Government. This is one more proof of the fundamental incapacity of this Party to understand the development of Italian politics.
Giolitti completed the labors of Nitti. It was Bonomi, Minister of War in the Giolitti cabinet, who fostered the beginning of Fascism, he placed at the disposal of this young movement demobilized officers who, although reentered into civil life, were still in receipt of a large portion of their army salaries.
He placed at the disposal of the Fascisti the State machine in as large a measure as possible. He gave them every possible facility for organizing their fighting forces.
The government realized that it would be a formidable error to engage in a real struggle in the period when the armed proletariat occupied the factories and the agricultural proletariat showed signs of being about to seize the Crown lands.
This government which had done the preliminary organization work of that reactionary force with which they desired one day to destroy the proletarian movement, was aided in its strategy by the treacherous leaders of the General Federation of Labor, who were then members of the Socialist Party. By conceding the law of Workers’ Control, which has never been applied or even voted, the government was able to reestablish the stability of the bourgeois State.
The proletariat was seizing the worksups and the landed estates. The Socialist Party once more failed to bring about united action of the industrial proletariat and peasants. And 0if is precisely this inability to secure united action which enabled the master class to achieve counter-revolutionary unity and so defeat the industrial workers on the one hand, and the agricultural workers on the other.
As we see, the State has played the primary role in the development of the Fascist Movement.
After the Nitti, Giolitti and Bonomi governments, wehad the Facta Cabinet. This was a type of government intruded to cover up the complete liberty of action of Fascism in its expansion over the whole country. During the strike in August 1922, several conflicts took place between the workers and the Fascisti, which later were openly aided by the government. One can quote the example of Bari. During a whole week of fighting, the Fascisti, in full force, were unable to defeat the Bari workers, who had retired into the working class quarters of the old city and who defended themselves by armed force. The Fascisti were forced to retreat leaving several of their number on the field. But what did the Facta government do? During the night they surrounded the old town with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of carribineers of the Royal Guard. In the harbor, a torpedo boat trained its guns, armored cars and cannons. The workers were taken by surprise during their sleep, the proletarian leaders were assaulted; labor headquarters were occupied. This was the case throughout the country. Wherever Fascism had been beaten back by the workers, the power of the State intervened; workers who resisted were shot down; workers, who were guilty of nothing but self-defense, were arrested and sentenced; while the magistrates systematically acquitted the Fascisti who were generally known to have committed innumerable crimes.
Thus, the State is the main factor.
The second factor in the development of Fascism is, as I have already said, the great capitalists of industry, finance and commerce, and also the large landed proprietors, who had an obvious interest in the formation of a combative organization which would support their attack upon the workers.
But a third factor has also had a very important influence on the formation of the forces of Fascism.
In order to form an illegal reactionary organization outside of the State, one is compelled to recruit other elements than those belonging merely to the highest circles of the dominant class. They gained the help of these elements by appealing to those sections of the middle class of which we have spoken, and, in order to draw them into their ranks, endeavored to express interests. One must confess that Fascism has well understood how to do this, and has well succeeded in so doing. They gained the assistance of elements belonging to strata only just above the proletariat, and even among those suffering from the effects of the – all those petty bourgeois, semi-bourgeois, tradesmen, and above, all those intellectual elements of the bourgeois youth which, in adhering to Fascism discovered in this struggle against the proletariat, a new energy and the exultation of patriotism and Italian imperialism. They brought to Fascism a considerable contribution, in supplying it with those human elements necessary for its militaristic organization.
These are the three factors which have permitted our adversaries to confront us with a movement of which we may denounce its ferocity and brutality but in which we must nevertheless recognize an organizational solidarity as well as the political intelligence of its leaders, the Socialist Party never understood the importance of this growing antagonistic movement. The Avanti never understood what the bourgeoisie was preparing by profiting from the criminal errors of the working class leaders. They did not wish to denounce Mussolini, fearing that by so doing they would be giving him publicity.
We understand then, that Fascism is not a new political doctrine. It has, however, a strong political and military organization, a considerable press conducted with a good deal of journalistic ability. But there is no semblance of a program; and now that they have arrived at the control of the State, they find themselves confronted by concrete problems and are forced to apply themselves to the organization of social economy. Now that they have to pass from negative to positive activities, despite the strength of their organization they commence to show their weakness.
We have examined the historical and social factors influencing the birth of the Fascist movement. We shall now discuss the Fascist ideology and the program by which this movement, has drawn to it the various adherents following it.
Our criticism leads us to the conclusion that in reality Fascism has added nothing new to the ideology and traditional program of the bourgeois politics. Its superiority and originally consist only in its organization, its discipline and its leadership. Behind this formidable political and militarist apparatus, there looms a problem which it cannot solve, namely the economic crisis which will continually renew the reasons for revolution. It is impossible for Fascism to reorganize the bourgeois economic machine. They do not know how to find the way out from the economic anarchy of the capitalist system. And they endeavor to carry on another fight, which is the struggle against political anarchy, the anarchy of the organization of the master class in political parties. The stratification of the Italian master class has always thrown up certain political groups, which did not base themselves on soundly organized parties, and which have been continually engaged in struggles among themselves This was above all the political reflex of the private and local interests, competition between professional politicians in the field of parliamentary backstairs and intrigue. The bourgeois counter-revolutionary offensive has dictated to the bourgeois class the necessity of achieving unity of action in the social struggle and the parliamentary field. Fascism is the realization of this. Placing itself above all the traditional bourgeois parties, it is gradually sapping their membership, replacing them in their functions and – thanks to the mistakes of the proletarian movement – is including in its political crusade the human elements of the middle class. But it cannot construct an ideology, nor a concrete program of social reforms, which shall surpass that of the traditional bourgeois policies, which have been bankrupted a thousand times.
The critical part of Fascist doctrine has no great value It is anti-socialist and also anti-democratic. So far as anti-socialism is concerned, it is obvious that Fascism is the movement of all anti-proletarian forces, and that it must therefore declare itself against all socialistic or semi-socialistic tendencies, without living able to present any new justification of the system of private ownership unless it be the well used one of the alleged failure of communism in Russia. But their criticism of the democratic regime – that it has not been able to combat revolutionary and anti-national tendencies – and that therefore it should be replaced by the Fascist State, is nothing more than a senseless phrase.
Fascism – is not a tendency of the Right wing bourgeoisie, which, basing itself upon the aristocrats, the clergy, and the high civil and military functionaries, is to replace the democracy of a constitutional monarchy by a monarchic despotism. In reality. Fascism conducts its counter-revolutionary struggle by means of an alliance of all bourgeois elements, and for this reason it is not absolutely necessary for it to destroy democratic institutions. From the Marxian point of view, this fact need by no means be considered paradoxical, as we know well that the democratic system is nothing more than a scaffolding of false guarantees, erected in order to hide the domination of the ruling class over the proletariat.
At the same time, Fascism uses both reactionary violence and those demagogic sophistries by which the liberal bourgeoisie has always deceived the proletariat while assuring the supremacy of capitalist interests.
When the Fascisti turned from their alleged criticism of liberal Democracy to proclaim to us their positive conception, inspired by patriotic exultation and a conception of the historical mission of their country, they based it upon an historical myth which has no basis in fact, if one considers the gravity of the economic crisis which exists in this Italy, falsely called “the victorious”. In their methods of influencing the mob, we see nothing more than an imitation of the classical attitude of bourgeois democracy: the conception that all interests must be subordinated to that of national supremacy, which is nothing more than the collaboration of classes, and is a means of protecting bourgeois institution against the revolutionary attacks of the proletariat.
A new feature which Fascism has revealed, is the organization of the bourgeois governmental machine. Recent Italian Parliamentary development would make us believe that one was in the presence of such a crisis in the evolution of the bourgeois State machine that one more blow would have shattered it. In reality we were only faced by a critical period of change in bourgeois governmental matters, due to the importance of the old political groupings and of the traditional Italian politicians in conducting the counter-revolutionary struggle in a profoundly disturbing situation.
Fascism has constructed the organ capable of fulfilling this role, if placed at the head of the state.
But when the Fascisti wish to place, side by side with their negative anti-proletarian campaign, a positive program and concrete proposals for the reorganization of the economic life of the country and the administration of the State, they were only able to repeat the banal platitudes of traditional democracy and even of social-democracy. They have furnished us with no trace of an original and co-ordinated program.
For example, they have always said that the Fascist program advocates a reduction of the State bureaucracy, starting from above, with a reduction in the number of ministers, and extending into all the branches of the administration. Now it is true that Mussolini has withdrawn the special train usually alloted to the Premier, but on the other hand be has augmented the number of cabinet ministers and of the assistant secretaries of the State, in order to give jobs to his legionaries.
Fascism, after having temporarily adopted republicanism finally rallied to the strictest monarchist loyalism; and after having loudly and constantly cried, out against parliamentary corruption, it has now completely accepted conventional parliamentary procedure.
They departed so far from the tendencies of pure reaction, that they even made use of syndicalism. In their congress at Rome in 1921, where they made almost ridiculous attempts at formulating their doctrines, they endeavored to explain Fascist syndicalism theoretically as being the supremacy of the movement of the more intellectual categories among the workers. But even this theory has been fully denied by their practice, which bases their trade union organization upon the use of physical violence and the “closed shop” sanctioned by the employers, with the object of breaking up the revolutionary trade unions. Fascism has not been able to extend its power in these organizations where there is the least amount of that technical specialization of labor which facilitates the control of the job. Their methods have had some success among agricultural workers and certain sections of the less skilled city workers, such as for example, the dock workers, without having attained success in the more advanced and intelligent sections of the proletariat. It has not even given a new impulse to the organization of office workers and metal workers. There is no substantial theory of Fascist syndicalism. The Fascist program is a confused mixture of ideas and of bourgeois and petty bourgeois demands; and the systematic use of violence against the proletariat does not prevent them from making use of the opportunist method of social democracy.
One proof of this is contained in the attitude of the Italian reformists, whose policy, during a certain time, appeared to be dominated by an anti-Fascist principle and by the illusion of forming a bourgeois-proletarian coalition government against the Fascisti, but who at present have rallied to the support of triumphant Fascism. This combination is not paradoxical; it has been produced by a series of events, and there were many early incidents which made it easy to foresee this alliance. One may mention for instance, the d’Annunzio movement, which on the one side is related to Fascism, and on the other, endeavors to attract to itself working class organizations on the basis of the program of Vienna which claimed to have a labor, or even socialistic, basis.
I have still to deal with the recent events in Italy on which the Congress expects to be thoroughly informed.
Recent events. Our delegation left Italy before the last events took place, and up till now has nor received proper information about them.
Last night a comrade delegated by the Central Committee, arrived here and gave us the necessary information. I vouch for
the bona fide character of the news which we received, and I will put them before you.
As previously stated the Facta Government enabled the Fascisti to carry out their policy on a very large scale. I will only give one illustration of this: viz. – the fact that the popular Italian Catholic Peasant’s Party which was strongly represented in the Cabinets that followed each other in rapid succession did not prevent the Fascisti from continuing a struggle against the organizations the members and the institutions of this Party. The existing government was only a sham government which did nothing to prevent the advance of Fascism towards power, an advance which we have defined as purely territorial and geographical.
In fact the government was preparing the ground. However, the situation was developing. Another ministerial crisis arose. Facta’s resignation was demanded. The last elections had resulted in a Parliamentary situation which made it impossible to secure a working majority by the old methods of the traditional bourgeois parties. It was always said that the “Giant Liberal Party” was in power in Italy. It was not a Party in the true sense of the word, and it never existed as an actual Party; it had no party organizations and was only a conglomeration of cliques grouped around certain politicians, of the North or of the South, or of cliques of the industrial or agricultural bourgeoisie in the hands of professional politicians. The ensemble of these parliamentarians was in fact the center of all the parliamentary combinations.
Well the time had come when Fascism had to choose between putting an end to the situation or experiencing a very serious internal crisis. The question of organization had also to be considered. Means had to be found to provide for the needs of the Fascist movement and to keep it up financially. These means were to a great extent provided by the employing class, and as it seems, also by foreign governments. France has given money to the Mussolini group. At a secret session of the French Chamber a budget was considered which comprised considerable sums of money handed over to Mussolini in 1915. Documents of that kind came to the notice of the Socialist Party, which did not care to take any notice of them at the time, saying that Mussolini was a beaten man.
The Italian Government has facilitated the task of the Fascisti, for instance, by allowing its bands to use the railways free of charge. Nevertheless, the enormous expense in connection with the Fascist movement compelled its leaders to assume power as the real government of the country. They could not wait for new elections in spite of the certainly of success.
The Fascisti have already a strong political organization, They number 300,000 and claim even larger numbers. They could have conquered through “democracy”, if they had not been obliged to accelerate the process.
On October 24th, a National Fascist Council was held in Naples. Everyone knows at present that this event, which was advertised in the entire bourgeois press, was only a maneuver to divert the general attention from the “Coup d’Etat”. At a given moment the parliamentarians were told: “Cut short your debates, there are more important things to do, every man to his post”! This was the beginning of the Fascist mobilization. It was October 26th, and everything was still quiet in the Capital.
Facta had announced his determination not to resign before at least another meeting of the Chamber, in order not to offend against the traditional procedure. However, in spite of this declaration, he handed in his resignation to the King.
Negotiations were started for the purpose of forming a new Cabinet. The Fascisti were marching on Rome, the center of their activity. They were especially active in the center, in Tuscany. They were not interfered with.
Salandra was summoned to form a new Cabinet. In order to countenance Fascism he was expected to refuse to form a Government.
At this time it was quite possible that the Fascist armies would have behaved like brigands and would have pillaged and destroyed everything in the towns as well as in the rural districts even against the will of their chiefs, if satisfaction had not been given them by calling Mussolini to power.
Then there came a period when public opinion was rather perturbed. The Facta Government decided to proclaim Martial Law. Martial law was proclaimed, and a collision between the forces of the State and the Fascist forces was expected to take place. For a whole day, public opinion awaited developments. Our comrades were very skeptical about such a possibility.
The Fascisti did not meet which any serious resistance anywhere, but there was a certain feeling in the army which was inimical to them. The soldiers were ready to fire at the Fascisti while most of the officers were for them.
The King refused to sign the proclamation of martial law, which was tantamount to accepting the conditions of the Fascisti, who wrote in the Populo D’Italia: “In order to obtain a legal solution it is only necessary to ask Mussolini to form a new Cabinet. If this is not done, we shall march on Rome.” A few hours after the declaration of martial law was revoked, it was known that Mussolini was ou the way to Rome. The military defenses were already prepared, advance forces were concentrated and the town was surrounded with barbed wire entanglements. However, an agreement was arrived at, and on October 31st the Fascisti entered Rome triumphantly and peacefully.
Mussolini formed the new Cabinet, whose composition you know. The Fascist Party which had only 34 seats in Parliament, had an absolute majority in this Government.
Mussolini reserved for himself the position of President of the Council and the portofolios of the Ministry of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs.
The other important portfolios were divided among the members of the Fascist Party.
In the other Ministries the Fascisti occupied important posts.
However, as the severance from the traditional parties was not complete, the Cabinet comprised also two representatives of the Social Democracy, viz. Left bourgeois elements and also liberals of the Right and one adherent of Giolitti. During the war, we had General Diaz, Admiral Thaon de Revel at the Admiralty, both of them representatives of the monarchy.
The Populist Party which earned great weight in the Chamber, was very clever in its compromise with Mussolini. Under the pretext that the official organs of the Party could not meet in Rome, it deputed to a semiofficial assembly of some of the Party’s parliamentarians, the responsibility to accept Mussolini’s offers.
Some concessions were at least obtained from the latter, and the press of the Populist Party was able to announce that the new Government had not produced many changes in the electoral system and in parliamentary representation.
The compromise was extended to the Social Democrats. At one time it was thought that the reformist socialist Baldazi would join the Cabinet. Mussolini was clever enough to approach him through one of his lieutenants, and after Baldazi had declared that he would be very pleased to occupy such a post, Mussolini represented the whole affair as a personal demarche of one of his friends, for which he would not take any responsibility. This is how it came about that Baldazi did not enter the Cabinet.
If Mussolini had not accepted a representative of the reformist General Federation of Labor, it is principally because the Right elements in the Cabinet are opposed to it. But Mussolini thinks that he must eventually have a representative of this organization, in his “great National Coalition” now that he has become independant of all revolutionary political parties.
We can see in those events a compromise between the traditional political cliques and various sections of the ruling class, landed proprietors, financial and industrial capitalists, who are rallying to the new Slate regime, which has been established by the Fascisti, and assured of the support of the petty bourgeoisie.
We believe that Fascism is, to some extent, a method of ensuring, by every resource at the disposal of the ruling class, their maintenance of power, even by the utilization of the lessons of the first Proletarian revolution, – the Russian Revolution. When there is a crisis in the economic structure, the State is not sufficient to preserve the power of the master class. There must also be a united party, a unit of counter-revolutionary organization. The Fascist Party is, in relation to the bourgeoisie, somewhat like the Russian Communist Party in its relation to the proletariat – an organ of the direction and control of the State machine, solidly organized and disciplined. The Fascist Parly in Italy has placed its political agents in every important branch of the State. It is the bourgeois organ for the control of the State during the period of capitalist decadence. This is, from my point of view, a sufficient historical interpretation of Fascism and the recent happenings in Italy.
The first measures for the new government demonstrate that it is not going to change the bases of Italian traditional institutions.
Naturally, I do not say that the present situation is a favorable situation for the proletarian and socialist movement, when I predict that Fascism will be liberal and democratic. Democratic governments have never given the working class anything but proclamations and promises. For example the Mussolini Government has assured us that it will respect the liberty of the press, but it has been careful to add that the press must deserve this liberty. But what does this mean? It meansthat, while declaring itself for the liberty of the press, the government will permit the militarist Fascist, organization to proceed against the Communist papers, when it is convenient for it to suppress them, as has already been done. One must state that the Fascist government makes some concessions to certain bourgeois liberals; and even if we cannot have much confidence in Mussolini’s assurances that he will transform his militarist organization into an athletic association, or something of that sort, we have not heard of dozens of Fascisti being arrested because of their refusal to obey the demobilization order issued by Mussolini.
What has been the effect of these events upon the proletariat? The latter has been recently in such a position that it has not been able to play such an important part in the struggle but has been compelled to remain almost passive.
So far as the Communist Party is concerned, it has always well understood that the victory of Fascism means the defeat of the revolutionary movement. We are now confronted with the question: have the tactics of the Communist Party been such as are capable of realizing the maximum results in the defense of the Italian proletariat. For we have never hidden the Party’s impotence to assume an actual offensive against Fascist reaction. If, instead of a compromise between the bourgeoisie and the Fascisti, a military conflict or civil war had resulted, the proletariat might have been able to play a certain role, reconstructing a united front for the general strike, and thus it might have been victorious. But in the present situation, the proletariat has hardly participated in the melee. If the importance of recent events is very great, one must at the same time realize that the change in the political scene has been less sudden than one would judge; there having been a daily accumulation of events leading up to the final coup of the Fascisti.
The only example of the struggle against the power of the State and the Fascisti was the battle at Cremona, in which there were six killed. The workers only fought in Rome. The revolutionary working class forces hurled themselves against the Fascisti; many were wounded. The following day the Royal Guard invaded the working class quarters and deprived them of all means of defense, permitting the Fascisti to fallow and -to shoot down the workers in cold blood. This is a most striking episode of this struggle.
The General Federation of Labor disarmed the Communist Party by proposing a general strike and begging the proletariat not to follow the dangerous path indicated by the revolutionary group. At a moment when our press was prevented from appearing, they even published the news that the Communist Party was on the point of dissolving.
The most striking incident concerning our Party in Rome, was the invasion by the Fascisti of the editorial offices of the Communista. On the 31st of October, while the city was occupied by 100,000 Fascisti, the printing plant was entered by a band of Fascisti just when the paper was to come out. With the exception of comrade Togliatti, our editor in chief, all the staff were able to evade the Fascisti by emergency exits. Comrade Togliatti was in his office when the Fascisti entered. Our comrade’s attitude was truly heroic. Boldly he declared that he was the chief editor of the Comunista. He was stood up against the wall to be shot, while the Fascisti were holding back the crowd to proceed with the execution, and our comrade was only able to escape from them because the Fascisti, who were informed that the other editors were escaping over the roofs, started in their pursuit. This did not prevent our comrade from speaking to a meeting in Turin for the anniversary of the Russian Revolution a few days later.
But this example, of which I wished to inform you, is quite isolated. Zhe organization of our party is in good condition. If the publication of the Communista is suspended it is not because the printers refuse to publish it. We have published it illegally in another printing plant. The difficulties in publishing it were not of a technical nature, but economic.
They seized the building of the Ordine Nuovo in Turin and confiscated the arms which had been kept on the premises for its defense. But we are publishing the paper elsewhere.
In Trieste the police also took possession of the printing plant of our paper, but we are still publishing it illegally. The possibilities of legal work still exist for our Party and our situation is not very tragic. But it is hard to foresee future developments and it is for this reason that I must make certain reservations with regard to the future situation of our party and the progress of our work.
The comrade who has just arrived is a working man in charge of an important local organization of our party, and he expresses the interesting opinion, which is shared by many militants, that one can work better bow than previously. I do not regard this as an established fact. But the comrade who has said this is a militant working among the masses, and his statement has weight.
I have already told you that the opposition press published the false news of the dissolution of our party. We have contradicted this. Our central political organ, our illegal military center, our trade union center, are working at full speed, ana connections with the country districts have been almost completely reestablished. We shall perhaps suffer an organizational crisis. But our comrades in Italy did not for a single moment lose their heads, and they are now making all necessary arrangements. The Avanti was almost destroyed by the Fascisti and it took several days to secure the republication of the paper. The inofficial headquarters of the Socialist Party in Rome were completely destroyed by fire. With regard to the attitude of die Maximalist Parly and with regard to the argument between the Communist Party and the General Federation of Labor, we have no statement to make.
As far as the reformists are concerned, it is obvious by the language of their publications that they will ally themselves with the new government.
Regarding the trade union question, comrade Rapposi [?] of our trade union committee thinks that this work will be able to continue.
This is the latest information which has come to us, and which dates up to the 8th of November.
I shall not touch upon the question of the attitude of our party during the whole period of the development of Fascism, while reserving my right to do so at some other stage in the Congress. With regard to the prospects of the future, we believe that Fascism will have to count with the discontent provoked by its governmental policies.
At the same time we realize that, when one has besides the State, the control of a military organization it is easier to triumph over manifestations of discontent and unfavorable economic conditions.
In the case of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the above has been true in a much broader sense, because the historical development is in our favor. The Fascisti are very well organized and have a certain measure of solidarity. Under these circumstances one may conclude that the situation of the Fascisti Government is by no means insecure.
You have noted that I have not exaggerated the conditions under which our Party has been fighting. This is no place to be sentimental.
The Italian Communist Party has committed certain errors which we are entitled to criticize; but I believe that the attitude of our comrades at present is proof that we have really worked towards the organization of a revolutionary party of the proletariat which will form the base of working class revolution m Italy.
Although one may consider certain steps which they have taken as being incorrect, the Italian communists are well entitled to feel that they have done nothing with which to reproach themselves before the revolutionary movement and the Communist International.