The truth about the Fascisti - Sylvia Pankhurst

Pankhurst examines the rise of Italian fascism from foundations laid by social democracy.

Submitted by Spassmaschine on June 24, 2009

The Daily Herald, the Labour Party organ with unexampled treachery to the cause of the workers, and to all that makes for progress, has attempted to whitewash the White Terror of the Fascisti, which holds Italy in its grip today.

Mr Hamilton Fyfe, the editor of the Daily Herald, who ought to be sent to the right for his gross errors, literary as well as political, observes: 'Whether the Italian Fascisti are enemies to the point of view of the workers in this country is not very clear.' He further declares:

'It is impossible not to feel a certain amount of admiration for this man who has organised what he calls a bloodless revolution.' Then he proceeds to argue that the Fascisti came into being to oppose the violence of the Communists.

Mr Hamilton Fyfe is not alone in his suggestion that though the Fascisti have made use of violence they are rather splendid people, and that their final triumph has been a bloodless one. Bloodless it has been, in so far as its victims have succumbed to superior force, as an unarmed man obeys the order of 'Hands up!' when he finds himself covered with several powerful revolvers.

What is the truth concerning the Fascisti and the Italian Proletarian movement which they were created to fight? At the close of the War the Socialist Party was the dominant force amongst these Italian workers. The movement was strong and virile. In each town it had its People's House, combining lecture halls, library, theatre, dance halls, cafe, restaurant and hotel. The co-operative societies were powerful and closely linked with the Socialist Party, as were the Trade Unions which also provided technical instructions in a large variety of trades.

The extensive character of the movement, with its fine buildings and splendid equipment, was far beyond comparison with anything we have in this country. The widely-read Socialist Party organ, Avanti, had a fine printing plant in Milan and in Turin, where several weekly and monthly organs and first-class colour printing were produced. (...)

The Italian workers were profoundly impressed by the Russian Revolution. The Avanti gave an enthusiastic support to the Russian Revolution and the Soviets, and to the Bolsheviki in the early days of their power, and the Avanti was moulding the opinion of the workers who read it so widely. On the walls of the industrial cities, Turin and Milan, one saw chalked up the slogans of the proletarian revolution, with 'viva' the revolution and Lenin, who was regarded as its leader. (...)

At the annual Conference of the Italian Socialist Party, in Red Bologna, in the autumn of 1919, the old Reformist leaders, Turati, Treves, and Modigliani, were left with only a handful of followers, and the centre party of Serrati and the Avanti received an enormous majority over the Right, whilst the anti-Parliamentarians had a substantial following.

The Serrati faction declared for revolution on Russian lines, for the Soviets, and for the abolition of Parliament; but this faction was determined to use Parliament in the meantime, and they refused to split the Party, by excluding the Reformists, who were opposed to making preparations for the clash of actual force with Capitalism, which the revolutionaries declared inevitable, and which, as events proved, was soon to come to pass.

The question of whether the moment had come for direct preparation for the coming struggle, and the setting up of the Soviets, was hotly argued; but, at this juncture, Lenin, on behalf of the Russian Communists, wrote urging the Italians to go, not to the Soviets, but to the elections, and declared that the Italian revolution should be delayed on the score of the unreadiness of the proletarian revolution in France and Britain.

Shortly afterwards Lenin proceeded to attack the Serrati faction for not expelling the Reformists; but the Serrati faction desired to retain the Reformists just because they feared to split the votes of their supporters and to jeopardise their Parliamentary success by expelling these popular Parliamentary figures. The followers of Lenin's policy presently obtained the upper hand, and Serrati was placed in a minority; but the Parliamentary policy remained dominant, and, as events have proved, the movement did not develop the capacity to meet the forces of Capitalist violence which were soon to face them.

In 1920 the employers in the metal industries attempted to lock out their workers; the workers, organised in their shop committee movement, proclaimed the Soviets in the workshops and occupied the factories.

The employing classes believed that the proletarian revolution had come, and that resistance was unavailing. There is abundant evidence of that today. Many and many a businessman has since confessed that he then saw no other alternative, and not a small number were even willing to try the experiment as an escape from the post-war anxieties that have befallen the trading community in the trade depression holding Europe in its grip.

At every stage the Soviet movement had been obstructed by the opposition of the leaders of the Trade Union Movement and by the older Socialist leaders. The metal workers had arisen spontaneously; they had placed barbed wire round the factories, and machine-guns on the roofs, and other workers were rising to join them. Engineers, seamen and others were giving proof of their solidarity; rural workers were rising in squads of twenty, fifty, or 100,000, to seize the landed properties.

The Anarchists approved and supported the movement; but the Anarchists, with their newly started daily, the Umanita Nova, were without the organisation to cope with the situation; it was not they, but the Socialists, who had the ear and the confidence of the great masses. And what did the Socialist Party, in which there were still the Reformists, Turati, Modigliani and Treves, as well as Serrati and Bombacci, the Maximalists and Bordiga, who had been given a seat on the executive as representing the Parliamentary abstentionists?

The great Socialist Party held aloof from the struggle and turned it over to the Trade Union leaders of the Italian Confederation of Labour. (...)


And what did the Trade Union leaders to whom the Socialist Party had left the revolution? They led the workers into an absurd bargain, by which a Commission (on the Sankey plan, which was used here to sidetrack the miners) was formed of twelve members nominated by the General Confederation of Labour and twelve members of the Employers' Federation, and with two experts on either side, to formulate proposals for joint control by the employers and the Trade Union. Some slight wage increases were granted on a sliding scale to rise and fall with the cost of living. The control boards afterwards established as a result of this Commission proved worse than useless. The workers soon refused to work them. Thus the movement, which could not be crushed, was betrayed into defeat.

When the crisis was over; when the workers had thus been led to surrender their conquests for a mere nothing, Capitalism heaved a sigh of relief and determined to run no risks. The organisation of the Fascisti, the brigand White Guards with the black shirts, began. Mussolini, the renegade ex-Socialist who deserted the Party to join the Jingoes in the war, was supplied with funds by the great industrial employers of Italy. These funds were used to organise a force of the more ignorant and reckless of the destitute ex-soldiers and the reactionary young men of wealthier classes to destroy the Socialist movement of Italy by brute force. The premises of the Socialist, Co operative, and Trade Union movements were invaded and wrecked, and meetings of the working-class organisations were broken up by the Fascisti with armed force. Socialists, Communists,. Trade Unionists and Co-operators were killed and injured. Municipalities with Socialist majorities were attacked, the council chambers looted, the members wounded or killed, and forced to resign. Newspapers of all shades of opinion opposed to Fascism were systematically terrorised and their printing machinery was destroyed.

Capitalism provided the funds for the Fascisti; Giolitti, the Prime Minister, encouraged its growth. Bonomi, who succeeded Giolitti, went further: he even permitted officers and soldiers of The Regular Army to join the Fascisti. Then the Fascisti began to run candidates for Parliament, and on a small number of these being elected, they took their firearms into the chamber to terrorise the assembly. The Fascisti hold 20 seats in the Italian Parliament: in numbers a negligible minority, but as Mussolini says, they are determined that Fascism shall be the State. They desire power, and they will have it. Therefore, they mobilised to seize the power. The Facta Government took steps to resist the Fascisti advance; it declared martial law and stopped the railway traffic, placing the engines under military guard.

The King now came forward to aid the Fascisti. Was it in terror that he might be deposed, like the numerous officials of all sorts who have been violently ejected, because they displeased the Black Shirts? Or was it in sympathy for the forces of reaction? Be the reason what it may, the King refused to sign the decree of the Government declaring martial law against the Fascisti: the Facta Government resigned, and the King called Mussolini to form a Government. Thus Mussolini has won the first round, amid the plaudits of reaction everywhere. The Fascisti have made a bloodless revolution, says the Daily Herald: they have acted 'with tact', says a Daily Telegraph correspondent. The tale of the latest Fascisti terrorism has yet to be told; but the Press telegrams published in the Capitalist daily Press record already that the Fascisti, on their triumphal entry into Rome, invaded the newspaper offices, destroyed the machinery, even of Capitalist papers opposed to them, and terrorised the editors with firearms.

Published in Workers' Dreadnought, 4 November 1922. Taken from the Antagonism website.