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THE World War was the cause of more disturbance and suffering to Italy than to almost any of the other belligerent countries. Less wealthy than they, she felt more acutely the restrictions imposed by wartime discipline. It was indeed clear that for Italy the struggle was going to be a more painful one than for the rest, because her armament was scantier, because the battlefields of the Carso were the most arduous in all Europe, and because her machinery of state was so much younger than that of France, of England, or of Austria. Yet in spite of all this, the Italian people went through the long years of the war with admirable discipline, arose again of themselves, unaided, after sudden reverses, and reaped in the end a well-deserved and glorious victory.
It was only natural, however, that Italy should have come out of the war more profoundly shaken in her foundations than the other victors. The sufferings had been so intense, the promises of a coming millennium had been so imprudently lavished upon the millions of soldiers, that it was not surprising that a wave of discontent and rancor rose among them. For reasons which I shall not here discuss, the tangible fruits of peace were not speedily forthcoming. Official confirmation of the Italian possession of the entire girdle of the Alps was not reached until November, 1920; and even that notable achievement did not suffice to reassure all anxious souls, for the question of Fiume, already acute, still remained in suspense.
Revolutionary propaganda profited by this opportunity to flaunt before the eyes of a dissatisfied and irritated people the example of Russia--a myth and an ideal. To the Italian ex-service men, mostly peasants, who had been led to expect that after the war each would be given a piece of land as his own, this meant not Communism but simply that the real workers, the men who actually fought the war, were now apparently the masters in Russia, and that the great estates of the idle proprietors had been divided among the descendants of those who, only three generations ago, were serfs.
The blind policy of building a wall around Russia did the rest. Men said to themselves, "Aha! Russia is being quarantined like a plague center." Therefore not a single story of Bolshevik horrors was any longer believed. The fascination of the unknown and the forbidden added to the illusion. May I be permitted to mention briefly, however, that in June, 1920, shortly after I had become Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Giolitti Cabinet and had stated in my first address to the Parliament that "Bolshevism must live and die of itself, without pressure from abroad," and after I had facilitated a mission of Italian Socialists to Russia, the attractiveness of the Russian myth diminished considerably. These Socialist delegates were honest people and they were believed by our workingmen when they reported that Russia was an inferno.
In September, 1920, the external manifestations of disaffection by the Italian proletariat reached their culmination. Using as a pretext the lockout resorted to by some leaders of industry as a result of an ordinary economic controversy, the workers proceeded to occupy the shops, in accordance with the Russian revolutionary formula. The movement lasted a few days and then died a natural death. It died from non-resistance. Premier Giolitti refused to leave his summer residence at Bardonnecchia in the Alps. From there he directed the work of the Government by means of a direct wire. At one time he received a deputation of industrial leaders, of whom one, more insistent than the others, asked the Premier to bombard the workers in the factories which they had occupied; to which Signor Giolitti said, with his courteously ironic smile, "Would you be willing for me to begin the bombardment with your own factory?" The captain of industry declined.
A few days later the occupation of factories began to peter out. The workmen tried in vain to invite in the engineers and managers. These declined the invitation. The workmen felt that they were helpless, the old Italian common sense did the rest, and liberty triumphed, without any noise, over violence.
Not long afterwards Signor Giolitti and I happened to be in the company of the much regretted Sir George Buchanan, who was then British Ambassador to Rome after having served in the same capacity at Petrograd during the war. Sir George, having seen the outburst of Bolshevism in Russia, scented traces of it more or less everywhere, whereas I tried to convince him that the solidity of our social order was such that I would not, in that respect, change places with Great Britain. The British Ambassador continued to express his apprehensions, and then Signor Giolitti, looking out of a window, said, "Do you see that olive tree, Sir George? You have never seen one in Russia, have you? Well, you will no more see Bolshevism in Italy than olive trees in Russia." It seems that Sir George repeated these words in London, and many months later they were proffered to me from the lips of Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, as an indisputable truth.
Now that four years have passed since those events I cannot see that any wiser way of dealing with them could possibly have been found. Signor Giolitti returned to Rome during the last days of the occupation of factories. I saw him at the Ministry of the Interior on the evening of his return and--I do not know if I should boast of it or own it as a mistake--I recalled to him the example of another post-war year, in Russia in 1905, when the streets of St. Petersburg were stained with the workers' blood, shed by furious Cossacks who had been launched against the strikers. It is my conviction that in those days the death-hour of the Romanovs was sealed.
It is true that in 1920 the Italian Socialist movement seemed at the summit of success. More than two thousand communes were in the hands of Socialists, supported by excited and ignorant mobs. In the Chamber of Deputies, their group counted 156 out of a total number of 508 representatives.
But the failure--and even more than the failure, the ridicule --incurred by the abortive occupation of factories undermined all faith in the extremist leaders. Their ranks and numbers remained, but confidence and enthusiasm were gone. This confidence would undoubtedly have persisted if the traditional "rivers of blood" had been shed. Finally, in January, 1921, at one of its periodical congresses, the Socialist Party divided into two groups, bitterly hostile to one another. That meant the end of all peril from that quarter.
This was what Signor Giolitti was waiting for, what he was counting upon. I remember his saying so several times in the autumn of 1920. And his certainty explains to a great extent his inactivity at the time of the invasion of factories. It was his conviction that however divided the Italian Socialists were, they would instantly reunite into a single block if violence were employed against them. As it was, by his temporizing policy he induced many of the moderate leaders to contend persistently and successfully, though in secret, against the illusions which had prompted the more violent and childish to seize the factories.
Besides, there were many signs of a change of spirit even before this.
In November, 1920, a member of the town council at Bologna belonging to the liberal minority was killed by revolver shots inside the City Hall. The murder excited just and unanimous indignation and brought about a new wave of reaction against policies of violence. The Socialist communes, many of which were being badly run through incompetent management, became more and more unpopular. In the beginning of this same month, a nation-wide ceremony proved that the country as a whole, from the Alps to Sicily, was recovering from post-war neurosis. This ceremony was held to dedicate the Italian people to all its war-time memories of glory and of sorrow. On November 4th, the banners of the regiments especially mentioned for valor in battle were brought to Rome for the King to attach medals to their staffs. Both in Rome and in the towns and cities whence these deputations had started, and whither they presently began to return bearing their decorated banners, the enthusiasm and reverence of the people shown to those symbols of heroism and suffering were overwhelming.
Four days later I was at Rapallo, as the Italian plenipotentiary, to conclude with the Jugoslav deputation an agreement for the peace of the Adriatic. The Jugoslav delegates were men sincerely desirous of peace; but they had gathered from the papers an impression that Italy's domestic situation was unsatisfactory. It seemed wise to disillusion them on this point. Consequently, on the day when the decorated banners of the Genoa regiments were returning to that great city, so full of intense industrial life, I was pleased to have those gentlemen accept my invitation to take an automobile ride about the town, in company with my wife. They came back amazed, but also awed. They had realized that Italian patriotism was a living thing, and that this fact was well known to the Italian Government.
Throughout 1921 the morale of the Italian masses, as well as their economic condition, improved steadily. In 1920 there had been 1,881 strikes in the country; in 1921 the number fell to 1,045, with 720,000 strikers--very nearly the same figure as in 1915, the year of Italy's entry into the war. In short, there was the same curve of progress as there was in France and England.
It was at this time that one first began to hear vaguely of Fasci and Fascismo in Italy, and then to observe them sporadically in action. What were they, or what did they aim at being? How did they come into existence and how did they develop?
Fascism originated as a romantic movement which gradually drew in the most heterogeneous currents, ideal and political, of the last fifteen years, including Futurism, a literary school inaugurated by Signor Marinetti, and socialistic Syndicalism, as developed from the theory of the Frenchman Sorel, partially modified by its passage across the Alps.
Very few persons, if any, recall the Fascist program as dictated and preached by Signor Mussolini in 1919 and 1920. In view of the incredible contradictions between the fourteen paragraphs of that program and the actual doings of the Fascist Government, I think it fit to state that the quotations which follow are literal. I should not cite these paragraphs at all if it were merely a question of demonstrating into what contradictions Fascism has fallen, but it does seem to me necessary to do so in order to establish by means of a fundamental document the measure of the consistency of Fascist thought. The text of the program is as follows:
"1. A National Constituent Assembly, as the Italian section of the International Constituent Assembly of Peoples, to proceed to a radical transformation of the political and economic bases of community life.
"2. Proclamation of the Italian Republic. Decentralization of the executive power; autonomous administration of regions and communes by means of their own legislative organs. Sovereignty of the people, exercised through a universal, equal and direct franchise of citizens of both sexes, the people to reserve the initiative of referendum and veto.
"3. Abolition of the Senate. Abolition of the political police. Magistrates elected independently of the executive power.
"4. Abolition of all titles of nobility and knighthood.
"5. Abolition of obligatory conscription.
"6. Liberty of opinion and of conscience, of religion, of associations, of the press.
"7. An educational system of schools, general and professional, open to all.
"8. The maximum of attention to social hygiene.
"9. Dissolution of trading corporations. Suppression of every kind of speculation, of banks and of exchanges.
"10. Census and taxation of private wealth. Confiscation of unproductive revenues.
"11. Prohibition of labor by children under sixteen years of age. Eight-hour day.
"12. Reorganization of production on a coöperative basis and direct sharing of all workers in the profits.
"13. Abolition of secret diplomacy.
"14. International police open to and inspired by the solidarity of peoples and their independence in a confederation of states."
It is easy to guess, but it is not so easy to explain logically, how Fascism, from a revolutionary and anti-bourgeois movement, came to be converted into a tool of reaction.
A brief survey of the recruits and of the man who recruited them will facilitate such an explanation.
The program and the banner of Signor Mussolini united around them a multitude of honest and generous youths, estranged from socialism by the coolness which that party had shown toward the war, which had been desired and fought by these same youths with enthusiasm. As to their aspirations for social progress, they felt that there were sufficient guaranties in the fourteen paragraphs above quoted, which appeared to have even more Messianic character than the promises they had heard before. These well intentioned but intellectually immature youths were joined by other heterogeneous elements--university students convinced that they were the intellectual aristocracy of the nation because they had adopted the esthetic theories of Signor Marinetti and the Nietzschean views of Signor D'Annunzio--demobilized army officers who felt attracted to a movement that harked back to the military routine to which they had become used--impoverished intellectuals, moved by a hope of bettering their material circumstances, irritated at seeing qualified manual workers earn more than they did themselves, and outraged by the new suspicious attitude of the socialist masses toward comrades of bourgeois extraction. Then there were the well-to-do intellectuals, pushed toward Fascism by their hostility to the working masses and by their disdain of the uncouth ways of the Socialists who, without adequate preparation, had taken possession of many municipalities and had been administering them in a manner even more ridiculous than dishonest. Last but not least, there were all those turbulent elements which every great war sets free and which saw in the new movement a chance to continue fighting, in accordance with their taste and mentality.
All of this army, with such different motives and passions and united solely by an unusually emphatic appeal to patriotism, was guided by one man, Signor Mussolini, who in a short space of time had gathered in and formulated the most opposite sentiments. I do not intend to discuss him in this paper. Even without him, Fascism would have played its part. Many post-war periods in history have produced similar phenomena, among others the post-war Rome of the Caesars. Only in order to contribute to the understanding of the doctrinal oscillations of Fascism must one note here:
At the head of patriotic Fascism there stands the man who, only some scores of days previous to his sudden conversion to the idea of Italy's participation in the war on the side of France and England, in his controversy with the Idea Nazionale, then a conservative journal (today a Fascist organ), which favored Italian participation "in order to strengthen the prestige of the crown, of the army and of the State," answered in the Avanti on September 13, 1914; "It is precisely for this reason that we do not want war. We aim at things diametrically opposed, namely at the destruction of the dynasty's prestige and that of the army and the State."
And at the head of anti-socialist Fascism is the same man who, during the occupation of factories by the workers, wrote in his Popolo d'Italia on September 10, 1920, that "the workers must not surrender the factories without obtaining guaranties."
Yet in spite of such quick changes of opinion on the part of the Fascist chief, history will probably one day return the verdict that it was not due to premeditation on his part nor to the wishes of the majority of the first groups of his adherents that Fascism, starting as a revolutionary and syndicalist ferment, soon transformed itself into a perfect tool of conservative reaction.
One can begin by noting that the syndicalist disciples of Sorel and accentuators of his theory of violence--for every political theory transplanted to a foreign soil suffers from exaggeration --had first tried their hand at the official Italian socialism, perverting it and interfering with its progress. After which, they divided into two apparently divergent groups. The one, previous to the war, joined the Nationalists--a monarchist group in the spirit of De Maistre, conservative and ultra militarist; among them was Signor Forges, today one of the chief Fascist directors. The other, among them Signor Mussolini, continued their career as Socialist-Revolutionaries. In 1922 and 1923 Fascism reunited the two branches which had seemed so far apart, but were essentially so near to each other, having in common, as they did, the theory of violence. The nationalist right and the nebulously but fervently revolutionary left found each other once more in Fascism with its double face of conservatism and subversion.
The fusion of elements united solely by a faith in violence--the lack of a precise political and moral program--the fact that most of the enthusiastic rank and file of Fascism boasted of impersonating "dynamic action" and not doctrinally defined principles--all combined to create a situation in which the Fascist movement evolved quickly, and without the knowledge of the majority of its followers, into an instrument of reaction. It was the haute bourgeoisie, both landed and industrial, of Tuscany, Emilia and Lombardy which by secret means managed to get hold of the regional Fascist organizations. These, made up of people of quick temperament and rather slow intellect, liked the assistance and the allies thus offered them and failed to see that from masters they had become policemen, paid servants instead of revolutionists. As for the central organization, which, as we have seen, had no firm doctrine to follow and solely aimed at securing power, it noticed too late the impossibility of changing its course without losing its strength; and consequently the movement progressed in the direction determined by its periphery.
Here it might be objected that the great landed and industrial bourgeoisie cannot have been totally without intelligence, and if it is true that the Bolshevik danger had already been eliminated under the Cabinet of Giolitti, what then was the menace they wished to combat?
The truth is that the landed proprietors as a class are little qualified to pass judgment as to the real and the fictitious in certain social phenomena; on the other hand, they are naturally inclined to follow any conservative tendency, afraid as they are of a return of serious disorders of the character of the jacqueries. The great industrialists were not thinking of combatting Bolshevism, which they knew very well did not threaten them any longer; they were up in arms against the socialist, or socializing, spirit of reform which had been gradually developing in the first twenty years of this century, thanks to what has been a real, though tacit, coöperation between Signor Giolitti and the moderate socialists.
It is therefore impossible to get a true appreciation of Fascism as it is today, and especially of its rapid triumph, without first realizing what has been achieved in Italy in the last decades by a government policy which, with only a few interruptions, had constantly kept in view the necessity of friendly agreement with the proletariat.
I shall try to give here a brief sketch of that period and that policy, of its drawbacks and advantages, and of the necessities which imposed it.
From the year 1911 to the outbreak of the European War, social legislation and measures of stabilization have followed an upward path. During all this time Signor Giolitti was almost constantly at the head of the Government. The Socialists were and remained an opposition party, but all the constitutional ones voted equally for his measures. The policy followed was really imposed on Italy by supreme economic and demographic reasons, apart from all party considerations.
Italy is in truth a poor country with a population which does not all find employment in its native land--whence the phenomenon of emigration. She also possesses large numbers of intellectual proletarians who have got to eat even if they find no employment after graduation from school. It is, therefore, only too explicable that there has had to be a social policy leading to the creation of numerous officials, some of which may be noxious to the development of certain branches of national activity. For the same reason it was natural in a country with moderate capitalist enterprise that laws should be enacted favoring coöperation. Thus we came to have thousands upon thousands of coöperative enterprises in Italy, some of which, it is true, existed by the favor of the state, or actually were supported by it; many of them, however, served as an incentive to thrift, and gradually helped to convert savings into capital which, in its turn, enriched the community, albeit not without damage to the interests of individual industrial enterprises. This democratic legislation did in fact guarantee that the peasants and workers should not be reduced to starvation wages (a thing that occurred before 1900), which would ultimately spell physical degeneracy for the majority of the Italian race.
Apologists of individualism may be quick to condemn this mania for social reform on the ground that it stifles the beneficial sense of independence, etc., etc. As a matter of fact, however, anyone who knows Italy well, who knows how she came to be united in 1860 and from what wreckage that union had sprung, will never waste time in discussing whether the policy was good or bad, for it was unavoidable. Social reform was the most powerful factor in the rapidity of the progress which enabled Italy--i.e., the whole of Italy and not merely her privileged northern regions--to keep pace with her most advanced neighbors.
It was demographic necessities which constrained Italy to this policy of reforms; and it was also geographic necessities, for with her naturally poor south she had to overcome in some way the economic inequality between her regions.
As a matter of fact, the period of social reform in Italy coincides with the period of the greatest economic progress. It was in those years that Italy had a normal balance, that the conversion of the funded debt took place, and that paper currency and gold currency stood at par.
I shall give a few figures which, better than any phrase, show how unfounded is the Fascist accusation that the democratic régime was economically harmful to Italy.
The budget of the state, in round numbers, had passed progressively from a balance in 1900 of 5 million lire (revenue 1,748 million, expenses 1,743 million lire) to 79 million lire in 1912 (revenue 2,775 million, expenses 2,696 million lire).
Imports and exports--the most reliable gauge of the improvement of the country's economic condition--showed, in round figures again, the following:
|Imports, 1900||1,707||million lire|
Look also at the figures of movement at the Italian ports, which in 1900 showed 60,000,000 tons, in 1913 showed 101,000,000 tons.
Is there better foundation for the boast of the Fascisti that by seizing the power on October 30, 1922, they saved Italy from the economic disaster threatened, according to them, by a Bolshevism which, as we have seen, was already dying out in 1920 and 1921?
Look at agriculture in 1922, which none the less was a year of scarcity because of exceptional drought. Figures published by the Ministry of Agriculture in June, 1923, show that production in 1922 exceeded that of the pre-war years by forty billion.
If we turn to industry, we see that it was on the increase during 1921 and 1922. The movement of capital invested in limited liability companies furnishes irrefutable proof of this statement. Before the war it amounted to 150 million lire annually, equal to some 600 million of the present-day depreciated currency. The average for 1921 and 1922, the two years immediately preceding the Fascist triumph, was 3,119 million lire, which even when reduced to the pre-war level of the currency shows a marked increase.
With increased industrial development, unemployment had begun to subside. The Fascist Minister of Finance, Signor De Stefani, himself wrote that "it had reached its highest figure during the winter of 1921-1922," which means that in 1922, the last year before the advent of Fascism to power, unemployment must have decreased.
It will be a question for future economists to decide precisely how and by what stages the captains of industry, in spite of these eloquent figures, came to support and finance the Fascist reaction, perchance hoping that it would facilitate larger profits than could be immediately gained under the régime of reform; and how little by little, towards the end of 1923 and in 1924, after two years of Fascist government, they came to recognize that it was not over-safe for great enterprises to continue living in an atmosphere of artificial quiet created by arbitrary compression; that there was peril in ignoring further the real state of mind of the working masses who felt that they had no voice in the Fascist Corporations into which they had been forcibly pushed in 1923.
What is certain is that today, though many great land owners still favor Fascism--which is only natural because the agricultural classes are always the slowest to change--captains of industry have already expressed through their authoritative spokesmen the opinion that Fascist excesses in the way of political reaction and repression of the workers represent a grave danger for the industrial classes.
Certain sections of the upper classes abroad, identifying conservatism with mere material repression, are given to praising Signor Mussolini in a way which clearly implies an appreciation scarcely flattering to our people. Indeed, to say that without a certain person and a certain party Italy was bound to succumb to the horrors of Bolshevism is equivalent to asserting that forty million Europeans were saved by a miracle, that is to say they did not deserve to be saved, for no people is really saved except through itself. On the other hand, to bring out the elements of moral sanity which have been and still are at work in the deepest strata of the Italian people, and are as spontaneous and permanent as their family virtues; to bring out that this people saved and will save itself by its own efforts, however slowly, without the aid of fetiches and miracles; to bring out that the mighty and vast sea wave is one thing and the noisy and brilliant crest of foam which attracts the eyes is another--this would be paying a deserved tribute to the Italian people. And the less it is based on eloquence, and the more on plain facts, the more effective it will be.
Abandoned by the industrial aristocracy, abandoned by the ex-soldiers who have once more been impregnated with the ancient democratic spirit of the nation, and by the generals who had led the Italian armies to victory and who on becoming members of the Senate have voted there against the Government, Fascism finds itself supported solely by the landed proprietors and by its own militia, which constitutes the only army of a party known to modern Europe.
This is not the place to indulge in political prophecies about the immediate future. But I shall permit myself to observe, in the same impartial spirit as has prevailed throughout this paper, that the longevity of the Fascist régime can well be measured by the stability and consistency of the norm which has become its central idea: that is, the negation of classes and of class struggles, even the negation of political parties, because every human being and every spiritual force in the country must be entirely subservient to the nation-state, which in its turn is interpreted exclusively by Fascism. And so we see, in present-day Europe, an attempt by means of these empty phrases to return to a conception such as may have prevailed thousands of years ago in lands governed by sacerdotal castes.
In all modern countries the different parties and classes and their contests have ever clearer functions. The most important phases of social progress have been due to the free play of the forces of parties and classes. This was perfectly well expressed, four centuries ago, by Machiavelli, whom for these last two years Signor Mussolini has affected to regard as his master in political science, when in realty he has understood extremely little of that deep and unflinching thinker.
"I say," Machiavelli wrote in his "Decades" (1.4), "that those who condemn the struggle between the patricians and the plebeians blame the things which were the first cause of the freedom of Rome; that they pay more attention to the noise and shouting which came from these struggles than to their beneficial results; that they fail to appreciate how it happens that there are two dispositions in every state--that of the aristocracy and that of the people; and how all laws enacted in favor of liberty are the product of this discord. . . ."
If such was the life of Rome two thousand years ago, if our most eminent political thinker was of this opinion four hundred years ago, how is it possible to believe that a great European people of forty million will in the end consent to delegate passively all their authority to a single party to exercise for them and over them a paternal guardianship?
The things that are going on in Italy are a mere paragraph in her history--not even an essential episode in it. The record of it will survive as a reminder of the excessive sufferings heroically borne by Italy in the war, and of the crisis of exhaustion that resulted from it. Such critical periods of exhaustion have been observed before in other countries. France had one in 1851 when she allowed Louis Napoleon Bonaparte to seize power; she had, to be sure, awakened long before the war of 1870 precipitated the blow from outside.
Italy has awakened infinitely more quickly. Yes, Italy is indeed already cured, even if it may be thanks to the blood of a martyr. The fact that a recent illegal decree has suppressed the liberty of the press shows plainly what would have been the verdict of the Italian people if they had free speech and free elections. This is what counts, because the true life of nations is in their souls. And the Italians, after two years of illusions for some and of suffering for others, have understood in their souls that the salvation of their country, for whose freedom five hundred thousand of our brothers died in the Great War, cannot come from violence in any guise, be it under red or black banners.