Revolution and counter-revolution in Italy (part 2)

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The Comintern organizes the defeat

A relapse was taking place within the Third International. There was an attempt to ressusitate the old Social Democracy, to restore it to what it had been before the crash of 1914 - complete with its revolutionary and opportunist wings. It was no longer a question of separating the new international from the social-chauvinists and parliamentary socialists of the Second International, who had proven themselves the implacable enemies of the proletariat in its civil war against its exploiters; instead the Comintern saw fit to discard the primary lesson of the imperialist war and the world revolution; "the absolute necessity for a split with the social-chauvinists."1

At the IVth World Congress of the Comintern in 1922, the Italian Communist Party (1CP) presented its Action Programme which vigorously rejected the proposed organizational fusion with the Italian Socialist Party (ISP), that the Comintern had peremptorily declared should take place on February 15, 1923. The ICP's refusal to go along with this directive was based on its demonstrably correct thesis that the role of the Socialist Party was to divert an important sector of the working class from its revolutionary struggle for political power by means of skilful electoral and trade union propaganda.

In fact, the projected fusion was providing the Socialist Party - whose ‘Third Internationalists' fraction had declared its willing­ness to accept the conditions for adhesion to the Third International drawn up at the Second Congress - with the possibility of camoufla­ging its real function within the class struggle and thus regain, in the eyes of the workers, the prestige it had forfeited forever through its actions in previous events.

Against this betrayal of the very principles acquired in the heat of struggle against Social Democracy (a betrayal initiated by the Comintern with the aim of attracting the ‘maximalist' turncoats), the delegation of the Italian Communist Party asserted that it was necessary to win over to communism those militants who were caught up in the Socialist Party's apparatus, through intervention at the fore of all struggles engendered by the economic situation. Simi­larly, it was necessary to wrest from the other so-called workers' parties their best militants, in other words those who fought for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This programme, correct in part, cancelled itself out in that it allowed for agitation within bourgeois organizations such as unions, co-operatives and friendly societies. The motions of the Communist Trade Union Committee, while denouncing the ‘Amsterdam betrayal' of the ‘Yellow International' could still remind the Italian General Federation of Labour of its ‘class duties'. None of this, however, prevented the latter from jumping on the capitalist bandwagon.

The fact that some communist militants did succeed in creating their own trade union cells closely linked to the life of the party, did not alter the harsh reality of the situation. They were not in a position to hold back the march of history, to prevent the trade unions from becoming encrusted in the very soil of capitalism, from wrapping themselves in the folds of the tri-colour.

As an experiment in the tactic of the Workers' United Front, which it had agreed to apply out of a sense of discipline and only on the level of immediate economic demands, the left participated in the national general strike on August 1922, in the belief that integrating the non-unionized workers the Labour Alliance would begin to take on the form of a workers' council. This served only to reinforce a number of prejudices already held by the workers of a country deeply affected by Sorelian illusions: trade union activity, the myth of the general strike, and democratic illusions. The call for a general strike issued by the Labour Alliance contained all the forms of bourgeois ideology. The Alliance invited the workers to struggle against the "dictatorial madmen" of fascism, all the while warning the workers of the danger entailed in using violence which would detract from the "solemnity of their demonstration"; it appealed for the reconquest of Liberty, "the most sacred possession of any civi­lized man".

It is useless to point out that for the Italian proletariat, already cruelly tried, this was an added defeat but unavoidable in such an unfavourable situation where in the class could only maintain itself in a defensive position with great difficulty. The number of strike days lost fell by 70 or 80% in relation to 1920.

In a series of incoherent turns, the Comintern one minute encouraged the ‘Third Internationalists' fraction of the old Socialist Party to split from the party and the next ordered them to stay in it and carry out fraction work. While the negotiations regarding fusion (which were to end in the creation of a party bearing the name Unified Communist Party of Italy) dragged on, the Comintern was pressing ahead with its indictment of ‘left-wing childishness'.

The opportunity for the manoeuvres for the Comintern to go unhindered arrived like manna from heaven in the form of fascism. In February 1923, after Mussolini had arrested Bordiga de Grieco and a number of other leaders who belonged to the left of the party, the Enlarged Executive of June 1923 was able to approve a provisional Executive Committee under Tasca and Graziadei: ‘trustworthy' men who would re­tain their functions in the Executive Committee after the freeing of the old leadership elected at Livorno and Rome.2

In Italy, as in France under Cachin, the International orientated itself towards the task of winning over the ‘masses' by supporting itself on the rotten edifice of Social Democracy. Obviously such tactics implied the removal of the communists who had founded its national sections by branding them as ‘left wing opportunists' because of their intransigent defence of principles.

What was being played out at this time was not a sordid game of power politics within the young communist parties, but a drama of colossal historic proportions: the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat, fascism or communism. Alas, the final curtain was to fall on the historic scene to the disadvantage of the proletariat.

The new international line drawn up by Zinoviev characterizes the Social Democracy as the right wing of the workers' movement rather than as the left wing of the bourgeoisie. It scrubbed over the fact that Social Democracy at the head of the old organizations of the reformist period had, on 4 August 1914, gathered together all its forces into an anti-working class front committed to the salvation of bourgeois rule; that it had lent to the forces of reaction its Noskes, Scheidemans, Bohms and Peilds; that for the crushing of the Hungarian Soviet Republic it had provided Austria with a federal chancellor in the person of one K. Renner, who distinguished by rousing the peasantry against the workers. Thus, the Comintern ended up completely disorientating the working class, sowing the most terrible confusion in its ranks, with the tactic of the "Open Letter", of "forcing the reformists into a corner" of inviting them to form left wing electoral blocs, to fuse with the Communists, etc. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie, taking advantage of a major respite in the class struggle, was able to bind up the wounds in its political apparatus.

Gramsci and anti-fascism

Shortly after the Enlarged Exutive had removed Bordiga from his position of leadership, Gramsci became the official representative of the Comintern within the Italian Party. In conformity with the directives of the International, he set about preparing the young Communist party for ‘anti-fascist resistance'. Thus the practice began of distinguishing between the fascist and anti-fascist wings of the bourgeoisie: the latter it was asserted, could be integrated into an ‘historic bloc', since according to Gramsci-ite theory the Italian proletariat could not become the ‘hegemonic' class unless it managed to create an alliance with non-monopolistic strata. (Lyon Theses, IlIrd Congress of the Italian Communist Party)

Following the murder of the Socialist Deputy, Matteori, by fascist henchmen in June 1924, the Communist and Socialist Parties resolutely decided to "withdraw to the Aventinno (ie leave parliament). Gramcis's circle within the party developed an analysis of the situation in Italy wherein it stressed the need for the party to regroup the maximum number of anti-capitalist workers around its factory cells to fight for the immediate objective of regaining basic civil liberties. While it was correct to affirm that the dictatorship of the prole­tariat was not on the immediate agenda, it was a fatal falsehood to claim that the re-establishment of bourgeois democracy would be beneficial to the next revolutionary offensive.

By leaving parliament, the Socialist and Communist, especially the right wing Gramsci-ites, hoped to be able to provoke the dismissal of Mussolini. It was as if they saw the presence of a representative of a totalitarian party in the Chamber of Deputies as a stain on the purity of bourgeois government.

It was, quite simply, a question of suppressing any reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat and replacing it with the transitional demand for a Constituent Assembly. The ‘United Front' line elaborated by Zinoviev was to lead to a ‘workers' government' like the one set up in Saxe-Thuringia in 1923, or at least to the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. The Gramsci-Togliatti duumvirate eagerly buckled down to the job. Their analysis was as follows: the ‘Aventino' where an embryonic democratic state had been set up within the fascist state, was destined to serve as the constituent body of a federal republic of soviets with the aim of carrying out a strictly national policy: the completion of Italian unity. This leit-motif had pride of in Gramsci's analysis: for him the Italian Communist Party had to show that it alone was capable of finally resolving the problem of national unity, a task which had been left dangling in the air by three generations of bourgeois liberalism.

This falsehood was the great contribution of the man whom the epigones of self-management unhesitatingly refer to as "the most radical of the Italian revolutionaries". From the very start Gramsci attempted to translate the lessons of the Russian October into a strictly Italian language. This provincialization of the universal experience of the international proletariat; this refusal to see that the questions confronting the class could only be solved by the sword of world revo­lution - all this was part of Gramsci's effort to align himself with the defence of ‘Socialism in One Country', that spicy dish concocted by the great chef, Stalin.

The central theses defended by Gramsci were that fascism derived from the peculiarities of Italian history and of the economic structure of Italy, rather than from the international situation. All this was necessary in order for Gramsci to justify the Constituent Assembly as an intermediary stage between Italian capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Didn't Gramsci declare that "a class with an international character must to some extent nationalize itself"?

For Gramsci, there had to be a national Constituent Assembly where all the deputies from "all democratic classes of the country", elected by the whole people, would draw up the future Italian constitution. A Constituent Assembly where, in the company of men like don Sturzo, Secretary of the Italian Popular Party; of liberal figures like Salvemini and Gobeti; and all the Turattis, a ‘progressive' regime could be set in motion.

Speaking at the Vth World Congress of the Comintern, Bordiga demo­lished Gramsci's position which saw fascism as a feudalist reaction of the landpwning interests. Bordiga addressed an International about to take up the theory of ‘building socialism in the USSR', in the following terms:

"We must reject the illusion that a transitional government would be naive enough to allow a situation to occur in which, through legal means, parliamentary manoeuvres and more or less skilful expediency, we could lay siege to the bourgeoisie, ie legally deprive them of their whole technical and military apparatus, and quietly distribute arms to the workers. This is a truly infantile conception! Making' a revolution is not that simple!"

But Gramsci, in the name of anti-fascism, had begun a rapprochement with the Party of Action (de Guista e Liberta), and with the Sardinian Party with which, as an islander himself, he had long established ties. These dated back to October 1913 when Gramsci supported an anti-protectionist manifesto for Sardinia. In order to avoid the "serious errors" of those whom they accused of "an abstract and verbal extrem­ism", Gramsci-Togliatti erased from communist propaganda the only phrase which could accurately describe the situation: fascism or communism.

The origins and nature of fascism

Heaps of pseudo-scientific rubbish litter the desks of the historians, all describing the origins and peculiarity of the fascist ‘phenomenon'. Actually, the coming to power of fascism some fifty years ago hardly merits the title of a coup die-tat, an idea widely tossed about by Stalinism and its leftist apologists.

The National Fascist Party entered the bourgeois parliament thanks to the elections of May 1921, in other words by the most ‘legal' channels possible. It had the support of the great democrat, Giolitti, who, on 7 April, had dissolved the previous parliament. On his orders, administrative interference with and judicial pursuit of people under his protection ceased to take effect; the fascists could now act openly, sure of immunity in high places. And so Mussolini, sitting on the extreme right with 34 other fascist Deputies, came to make use of the parliamentary tribune. On 26 June 1921, he announced his break with the man who had guided his foot into the electoral stirrup, Giolitti, who nevertheless remained in close contact with the parliamentary group of the Fascist Party via the prefect of Milan, Luisgnoli. Moreover, this connivance was two-faced: Nitti was quite happy to receive, in broad daylight, a visit from Baron Avezzana, whom Mussolini had sent to him in the hope of forming a grand coalition.

As Trotsky once said, "The programme with which National Socialism came to power reminds one, alas, of one of those big Jewish shops in out-of-the-way provinces. There is nothing you can't find in it."3 The same applies to Italian fascism. At that time, fascism was an incredible pot-pourri, borrowing from left and right ideas absolutely traditional to Italy. Its programme included:

  • anti-clericalism, the demand for the confiscation of the goods of religious congregations. At the 1st Congress of the Fasci, in Florence on 9 October 1919, Marinetti had proposed the devatican­ization of the country in terms almost identical to those put forward by Cavour some 34 years before.

  • syndicalism, inspired by the ideas of Sorel, full of unbridled enthusiasm in praise of the ‘morality of the producer'. In light of the experience of the occupations, the fascists understood that it was necessary at all costs to associate the workers' unions with the technical and administrative functioning of industry.

  • the ideal of an enlightened Republic, its legitimacy based on universal suffrage, regional electoral lists and proportional representation. The fascists also stood for the right to vote and eligibility for women; and, true to fascism's cult of youth, it put forward the demand for the lowering of the voting age to 18, and of the age of eligibility of Deputies to 25.

  • anti-plutocratism, the threat of hitting big capital with a pro­gressive income tax (what was called ‘authentic partial expro­priation'), of revising all the contracts for war supplies and of confiscating 85% of profits acquired during the war.

The more a social programme is eclectic and rich in promise, the more numerous are its supporters. All kinds of people began to be drawn to fascism: nostalgic war veterans (the ‘arditti'), freemasons, futurists, anarcho-syndicalists.....All of them found a common denominator in a reactionary rejection of capitalism and its deca­dent parliamentary institutions. The hall of the San Sepolero, put at the fascists disposal by the Circle of Industrial and Commer­cial Interests, resounded with Mussolini's famous maxim: "We fascists have no pre-established doctrine; our doctrine is the deed." (23 March, 1919)

In the electoral sphere, fascism adopted the most varied and flexible tactics. In Rome it presented a candidate on the list of the National Alliance; in Verona and Padua it was for abstention; in Ferrare and Rovigo it joined the National Bloc; in Treviso it allied itself with the war veterans; in Milan it afforded itself the luxury of denoun­cing the demand for legal recognition of the workers' organizations, a hobby-horse so dear to leftist factions. The fascists said legal­ization would lead to the ‘strangulation' of those organizations!

Such was the nature of fascism in the early days, when whatever it may have been, it could hardly claim to be an independent political force with its own objectives. In particular, the fascists had to face up to one demand: the need to get rid of all propaganda which was embarrassing to the industrialists and which the ruling class found somewhat out of place in the propaganda of a party pledged to the re-establishment of social order. The ruling class had every reason to distrust a movement which, in order to attract the mass of workers and peasants, had been forced to make a spectacular show of contempt for social conformism. Fascism had to mature before it could meet the requirements of capital.

And so, this crude anti-clericalism, once so virulent in its atheistic outbursts, had its banners blessed in the nave of Milan Cathedral by Cardinal Ritti, the future Pope Pius XI4. From then on, not one fascist memorial, not one fascist rally, failed to receive the sprinkle of holy water. In 1929 the Lateran Pact was signed through which the regime recognized the Holy See's legal right to private property and granted it an indemnity of 750 million lira, plus the right to exact rent at 5% interest on capital of 100,000 lira. This appeased the Catholics and made them grateful to fascism for having reintroduced religious instruction into the curriculum of state schools. Now that Mussolini had shelved his anti-clerical passions, the Catholics dubbed him "the man of divine destiny". In all the churches of Italy, Te Deums were said for the successful completion of the task of national salvation to be carried out by fascism.

Likewise, this great republican movement rallied to the crown and the monarchy; on 9 May 1936 it offered the king and his descendants the title of Emperor of Ethiopia; and it gave representatives of the ruling dynasty official posts in the diplomatic corps.

This anarchistic, anti-party became the National Fascist Party with its pyramid of quadrumvires, hierarchs and podestats; showered honours upon state dignitaries; swelled the state bureaucracy with new mercenaries and parasites.

This anti-statism which in the beginning had proclaimed that the state was incapable of managing national affairs and public services, shortly declared that everything was part of the state. The cele­brated words:

"We've had enough of the state as railwayman, the state as postman, the state as insurance broker. We've had enough of the state exercising its functions at the expense of the Italian taxpayer and aggravating the exhaustion of our finances." (Speech of Udine at The Congress of Fasci at Fioul, 20 September, 1922)

gave way to:

"For the fascist, everything is in the state, and nothing human or spiritual exists or has any value outside the state." (The Italian Encyclopedia)

This pseudo-enemy of the wealthy, of war profiteers and of the shady deals which flourished so much in the Giolitti period, was soon decked out from head to toe by the captains of industry and agricul­ture, and this was long before the famous ‘March on Rome'. From the very beginning the propaganda of Popolo d'Italia was regularly subsi­dized by the big firms of the armaments and war-provisions industry: FIAT, ANSALDO, EDISON, who were interested in seeing Italy follow an interventionist policy. The patriotic cheques provided by Minister Guesde's emissary, M. Cachin, also helped the first issues of that Francophile journal to come out.

It is true that within the National fascist Party conflicts arose which sometime led to the formation of dissident groupings, This was, for a time at least, the case with certain provincial fascist cells, notably the one led by the triumvirum made up by Grandi and Baldo and partly also by the Confederation of Agriculture. This sort of thing easily led to the idea of an ‘agrarian' fascism'.

But fascism appeared from the beginning in the big, highly indust­rialized urban centres; only afterwards was it able to make its entry into the countryside in the form of a rural syndicalism -with a kind of plebeian emphasis. Its punitive expeditions always went from the towns to the villages: and the ‘squadrisiti' only became the masters of the villages after often bloody struggles. Actually, the internal struggles among the fascists expressed the contradic­tions between those petit-bourgeois anarchistic elements of fascism who had been ruined by the war and the factions which arose to fulfill the general interests of the ruling class for economic concentration carried out by the state.

Thus, those old ‘comrades' who showed themselves good for nothing except wallowing in the old glories or wielding the cudgel against all comers, were to taste in turn the paternal rod. You have to be cruel to be kind. And, having put on a left face, fascism now began to move to the right over the heads of those who did not understand that the movement would squander all the fruits of its victories if it lost its sense of proportion. And the ‘right' proportion for fascism was anything which guaranteed the profits of capital.

Behind all the leftist mythology lies the indisputable fact that fascism was not a preventative counter-revolution carried out with the conscious aim of crushing a proletariat on the verge of des­troying the capitalist system. In Italy it was not the Blackshirts who put an end to the revolution; it was the failure of the inter­national working class which led to the victory of fascism, not only in Italy, but also in Germany and Hungary. It was only after the failure of the factory occupations movement, in the autumn of 1920, that repression came down on the heads of the Italian workers; this repression was carried out by two factions; the legally constituted forces of the democratic state, and the fascist squadristi.

Only after the defeat of the working class did the fascists really get going, thanks to the largesse doled out to them by the employers and the facilities granted them by the public authorities. At the end of 1919, the fascists had been on the verge of the void, with only 30 cells and rather less than 1,000 members; but in the last months of 1920 their numbers multiplied many times over to include 3,200 ‘fasci' containing 300,000 members.

It was Mussolini, of course, who became the ‘chosen one' for the Confederation of Industry and the Confederation of Agriculture, the Bankers' Association, government deputies and such glorious national figures as General Diaz and Admiral Thaon di Revel. It was Mussolini whom big capital put in the driver's seat and not someone like d'Annunzio whose nationalist adventures were unanimously repudiated by the bourgeoisie during the Christmas period, 1920. The poet of the ‘Naval Odes', (‘Arm the prows and set sail towards the world'), was allowed only to compose lyrical hymns to the medi­ocre Italian conquests in Africa; he was given the job of keeping the flag of nationalism burning, but not of finishing off the massacre of the workers. This role fell to Mussolini, ex-atheist, ex-libertarian, ex-left wing intransigent, ex-director of Avanti.

For marxism, there is no ‘mystery' in fascism which cannot be understood and denounced in front of the working class.

The trade unions during the fascist period

In the last weeks of 1920 the fascist offensive against the organi­zations and associations under the control of the Socialist Party, doubled in intensity. Once again the witch-hunting of the ‘Bolsheviks' got underway with a vengeance; Socialist leaders were molested, and, if they resisted, were cowardly assassinated; the headquarters of the Socialist papers, the Labour Ministry, the buildings of the co­operatives and Peasant Leagues were burned down and pillaged. And all this happened with the direct connivance of the democratic state which protected the fascist gangs with its own rifles and machine guns.

Confident of the bourgeois state's support, fascism quickly assumed control of the essential cogs of that state. It simply took over, by force if necessary, the state institutions which had previously so faithfully served the policies of the imperialist bourgeoisie of Italy.

Fascism made a big show of the very real interest it had in the trade unions by signing the Pacification Pact on 2 August, 1921. On that day, representatives of the National Council of Fasci, the Socialist Party, the Parliamentary Fascist and Socialist groups, and the Italian General Federation of Labour, together with the President of the Chamber, De Nicola, met in Rome and agreed not to surrender the streets to "outbursts of violence, nor to excite extremist partisan feelings" (Article Two). The two sides also agreed to "reciprocally respect each other's economic organizations" (Article Four). Each side recognized in their adversary a living force in national life, a force to be reckoned with. Everybody agreed to try to avoid con­frontation.

By endorsing the Pacification Pact, all the political forces of the bourgeoisie, both the right and the left, showed that they understood the need to bury the working class, once and for all, by means of this pact for civil peace. Still not completely crushed the working class had fallen back to a defensive position; but the workers' resistance grew more and more difficult as the days went by. Inspite of these unfavourable conditions, the Italian proletariat continued to struggle every inch of the way against both the ‘legal' and ‘illegal' faces of reaction.

Turatti, while still putting his hopes on the formation of a coali­tion government supported by the ‘reformists' arrived at the following self-justification: "It takes courage to be a coward!" On 10 August the Socialist Party leadership - the same people whom the Comintern would later approach in order to ‘strengthen' the revolutionary move­ment - officially approved the Pacification Pact, The readers of the ‘anti-clerical' Avanti were then treated to an original serial called ‘The Life of Jesus', which, according to Pappini, was designed to make the pill of ‘pacification' easier to swallow.

The scenario of this ‘comedia del'arte'was played out in the follow­ing manner: the first actors openly used military force against a proletariat which was weakened and in retreat; the next exhorted the class to do nothing that might provoke the enemy, to undertake no illicit actions which might serve as a pretext for new and more violent attacks by the fascists. How many strikes were suspended by the Italian General Federation of Labour in agreement with stipulations imposed by the Socialist Party? It is impossible to keep count of them. In the face of a military offensive and attacks by the bosses in the form of lay-offs and wage cuts, the bourgeois left continued its work of sabotaging the workers' struggle. For example, the Italian Federation of Metallurgical Workers (FIOM) deemed lay-offs and wage cuts to be part of the natural order of life and consequently tailored its demands to fit the objective financial situation of each enterprise. (This was called the articulation tactic.)

Even the Alliance of Labour in which the Communist Party had had such high hopes ascribed to this programme for the salvation of the capitalist economy. It derailed strikes and moderated its agitation. All of these moves were recognized and vigorously denounced by the Communist Left.

What then was the proletariat to do? The answer given by the Social Democratic organizations was simple and obvious: regroup for the nth time on the electoral terrain, defeat the fascists via the ballot-box, and so facilitate the formation of an anti­fascist government containing a few Socialist leaders. Assured of a convincing victory, Mussolini himself` was in favour of such a ‘peaceful' confrontation:

"The spectre of elections is more than enough to befuddle the old parliamentarians, who are already campaigning for an alliance with us. With this bait, we will be able to do what we like with them. We were born yesterday, but we are still more intelligent than them." (Journal)


The march on Rome

Towards the end of October 1922, everything had been carefully pre­pared for Mussolini to come quietly to power under royal auspices. During the epic March on Rome (in railway coaches), which had been announced as early as the beginning of September at Blackshirt meetings and processions, the squadristi were met by official repre­sentatives of the state at the stations of Cremona, Merano, and Trento. In Trieste, Padua and Venice the authorities marched shoulder­to-shoulder with the fascists; in Rome the military quartermaster fed and housed the Blackshirts in the barracks.

Once installed in power, fascism demanded the loyal collaboration of the Italian General Federation of Labour. The powerful rail­waymen's union was the first to accept the fascist's call for a truce; its lead was soon followed by other union federations. And so, without having to resort to an armed insurrection, fascism was able to take over the main positions of the state apparatus. Mussolini as President of the Council also kept for himself the portfolios of Minister of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs; his close com­rades-in-arms were given the other important ministries - Justice, Finance, ‘Liberated' Territories.

Fascism was simply a change-over in the leadership of the bourgeois state. After the change-over, fascism was in a better position to make the workers taste the bile of intensified exploitation. In doing so, it used the whips and cudgels the Socialists had made with their own hands. The fascist state was therefore nothing but a form of organization resorted-to by the bourgeoisie in order to maintain capitalist accumulation in a situation in which parliamentary govern­ment was no longer feasible and had to give way to an overt dictator­ship.

The economy in the fascist period

All that fascism really did was to accelerate the objective process leading towards the fusion of the trade unions with the bourgeois state. For the trade unionists and social democrats no less than for the fascists, the class straggle was simply an obstacle in the way of those who wanted to find a solution to the problems of the national economy. Thus fascism put the trade unions at the service of the nation just as the latter had done on their own initiative during the post-war economic recession. The social gospel of solid­arity between the classes was preached by both the fascists and the trade unions.

Formally speaking, the economy during the fascist period was based on the corporate principle, according to which particular interests had to be subordinated to the general interest. In place of the class struggle, corporatism stood for the union of classes and a national bloc of all the sons of the fatherland. It tried to persuade the workers to exert themselves selflessly for the supreme interests of Italy. The Charter of Labour, adopted in 1921 recognized the state as the sole agency for the elaboration and application of labour policies; any factional struggle, any particularistic settlements outside the state were excluded. Henceforward, conditions of employment and payment were regulated through the collective contract established by the Charter.


Fascism stood for the construction of an Economic Parliament composed of members elected according to their trade. This is why it attracted into its ranks many of the leading Sorelian syndicalists. These people found in this ‘daring' project a vindication of their principles of apoliticism and of trade union independence from political parties.


Thus corporatism appeared at a time of world crisis as a form of direct state intervention in the economy, which at the same time sought to force the working class into submission and obedience. The non-­marxist, Gramsci, has to ask himself, "Is this the only way the pro­ductive forces of industry can be developed under the leadership of the traditional ruling classes?"5 It totally escaped the author of The (Russian) Revolution Against (Marx's) Capital, that capitalism was in decadence and that fascism was nothing but a mode of survival for capital.


The year 1926 marked the beginning of great economic battles which aimed at protecting the internal market of Italy through limiting the importation of food products and manufactured goods by developing industrial sectors which had previously proven unable to satisfy the needs of the internal market. The results of this reorganization were largely eclipsed by its negative side-effects; prices rose to a level above that of the world market. Thus, the mere resort to statist manipulations did not resolve any of the economic problems of a country poor in natural resources. In addition, the only rewards Italy had received from her participation in the imperialist war were a few territories which served neither as commercial outlets nor as a means of getting rid of her surplus work-force.

The strengthening of customs duties, draconian control over exchange rates, the granting of subsides, state orders, and, as a corollary, the freezing of wages - amounted to a continuation of policies which had grown up during the war. Under the pressure of economic necessity the state had to become a builder of factories, supplier of raw materials, planner of the market, sole buyer of production, sometimes even paying for it in advance, legislator, etc., etc. The state had become the centre of gravity of an enormous, impersonal productive apparatus, before which everyone, even those still attached to the principles of free enterprise, the creative spirit of the industri­alists, had to bow the knee. For these reasons the habits of ‘liberal' life, of ‘democratic' practice, were replaced by the activity of the state. This was the soil in which fascism could bloom.

If an enterprise fell under the dark shadow of bankruptcy, the state would step forward to buy back its assets. If one sector was to be developed more than another, the state would issue its imperious directives. If it was necessary to block the importation of grain, the state would oblige by making a unique kind of bread whose yeast content it would fix in advance. If the lira needed to be revalued, the state would give it parity with the franc despite the warnings of the financiers. The state stimulated the concentration of enterprises; it made concentration obligatory in the iron and steel industry; it was a landowner; it put blocks on immigration; it put colonists in places where it was trying "to create a new, organic, powerful system of demographic colonization which would bring with it all the benefits of civilization"6; finally, it monopolized foreign trade.

By the end of 1926, the most important part of the Italian economy was in the hands of state or quasi-state committees: Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, National Council of Research, Cotton Institute, National Cellolose Council, Italian General Oil Company. A number of these councils had the task of procuring substitute products for the Italian economy: synthetic wool, artificial silk and cotton.

This whole programme of economic autarky, which sent many intelligent men into ecstasy at the time, was in fact Italy's preparation for World War II.

Italian imperialism

The imperialist decadence of capitalism which ravages humanity is forced, by its own relentless logic, to give birth to crises and wars, explosions indicating the growing contradictions of the system. This situation necessitates a bourgeoisie armed to the teeth.

Fascist Italy could not abstain from arming herself without renoun­cing her imperialist ‘rights' on the world arena. And these ‘rights' added up to a thick catalogue of demands. So that Italy could enjoy her ancestral birthright, Mussolini wanted to transform her into a power to be reckoned with in the Mediterranean basin, a power stretching eastward to the Balkans and Anatolia.

The USA, Britain and France intensified their armaments programme while at the same time waving the olive branch. They looked for a redivision of the world at the same time as uttering unctuous phrases about the ‘security of nations' and ‘international arbitration' under the benign auspices of the League of Nations. But Fascist Italy did not hesitate to announce openly its intentions: the mobilization of "eight million bayonets" of "masses of planes and torpedos":

"The fundamental duty of Fascist Italy is precisely to prepare all her armed forces on land, sea, and air ... When, between 1935 and 1940, we will have reached a supreme moment in the history of Europe, we will be in a position to make our voice heard and to see our rights recognized at last." (Mussolini's Speech to the Chamber, 27 May 1927)

Imperialist herself, Italy knew the score when the other members of the League of Nations ‘solemnly' committed themselves to reducing their armaments under international control; when the American government tried to get all countries to condemn war as "... illegal and to commit themselves to the renunciation of war and the use of litigation in international affairs." (The Kellog Pact, 27 August 1927)

Fascism recognized perfectly well that the problems which most affect a nation's life are problems of power and not of justice; that they are settled through the clash of arms and not through some mythic grace, whatever the Wilsonian idealists might claim. The young fascist militia men could read in the first phrase of their ‘Ten Commandments': "A real fascist, in particular a militia man, must not believe in perpetual peace". In the newspapers, in the cinemas at university graduation ceremonies, at sports meetings, the same message was hammered home: after having won the battle of 1914-18, Italy must continue her forward march.


If the state was already at the centre of social life, this trend accelerated greatly with the development of the army, navy and airforce on the eve of World War II. Even if we take into account the devaluation of the lira, Italy was spending twice as much on war production than on the eve of the Ethiopian War.


The Duce had warned the whole nation of the inevitability of war, of the need for severe sacrifices by the proletariat. After Italy had transgressed the sacrosanct principles of the Geneva Convention by invading Abyssinia, the 51 ‘democratic' nations sanctioned a commercial embargo against Italy. This allowed Mussolini to intensify his own crusade against the nations who had taken the pledge of ‘security'. Since this hypocritical application of sanctions did not ban the sale of coal, steel, oil and iron (ie all the goods indispensable to the armaments economy), fascism was able to reply with the mobilization of the workers around its programme.7

(To be continued)


Note: (Benjie)

I cannot find where to put the footnote number 11 (6). I cannot find any footnote 11 (6) above.

11. Military budget in millions of liras (same source as for note 10)

1933 ...... 4,822 1936 16,357

1934 ......5,590 1937 13,370

1935 ...... 12,624 1938 15,030

1 Lenin, ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism' in Against the Current, Bureau d'Editions, T 11, p,262.

2 The Trotsky who wrote "The Central Committees of the left of many parties were dethroned as abusively as they had been installed before the Vth Congress" in The Communist International After Lenin, should have paused to consider his role in the policies of this kind.

3 ‘What Is National Socialism?', Trotsky, 10 June, 1933. Supplements a la Quatrieme Internationale, T 111 of Ecrits.

4 Elected by the Conclave of 6 February, 1922, Pius XI soon got down to business. Apostolic Nonce in Poland during 1918-21, ie during the civil war and victorious offensive of the Red Army, he vowed his undying hatred for a proletariat which had laid sacriligious hands on the state created on 11 November, 1919 by Versailles, in order to drive a wedge between Soviet Russia and the German Revolution.

5 ‘Il materialismo storico e la filosofia di B. Croce'.

6 The plan of May 17, 1938. From the end of that year 20,000 peasants from Pouilles, Sicily and Sardinia were working in Lybia on 1,800 rural enterprises composing 54,000 hectares under cultivation. In Lybia, the total number of Italians reached 120,000; in Ethiopia, there were 93,550, and so on. ‘L'imperialisme colonial italien de 1870 a nos jours', JL Miege, SEDES, 1968, p.250.


7 "The Italian workers have thus been presented with a choice between Italian imperialism and English imperialism, which is trying to act under the cover of the League of Nations. It is not a class dilemma which confronts the Italian proletariat, a dilemma which it could surmount inspite of the terrible difficulties it faces today; rather, it is a dilemma between two imperialist powers, and it is in no way surprising that, prevented by the counter-revolutionary policies of the two parties (the ‘centrists' as the Italian left called the Stalinists at that time, and the Socialists) from finding its own path, the proletariat, forced to make a choice, should opt for Italian imperialism, because for them the defeat of Italy would mean that their own lives, and the lives of their families, would be in peril, and that they would face an even greater deterioration of their living standards." (‘One Month After the Application of Sanctions' in Bilan )

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