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Origins of Fascism

As Weber notes, "In charismatic relations people no longer obey customs or laws, instead, the followers submit to the imperious demands of a heroic figure, whose orders are legitimated not by logic, nor by the hero’s place in ascribed hierarchy, but solely by the personal power to command of the charismatic individual."

Mussolini's rise cannot be detached from the biennio rosso, the two red years of 1919 and 1920. This reached its peak with the factory occupations of 1920, when hundreds of thousands of workers took over their workplaces and peasants squatted the land they used but did not own. Italy was on the verge of social revolution. Fascism was a response to this, a tool by the ruling class to crush working class organisation, resistance and power. It was, to use Luigi Fabbri's expression, a "preventative counter-revolution."

The origin of Fascism goes back to just that period when murmurs began to be heard in the land against the neutrality of Italy, and a revolutionary element began to rise against the government that favored it. The first bodies of Interventionists, the 'Fasci for Revolutionary Action,' were Socialists in outlook, like Mussolini. That was early in 1915. All during the Great War these cells of fasci, or groups, existed among the soldiers of the Italian army. From these groups was impregnated into the Fascist social revolution the characteristic nationalism of Italian tradition. The movement thus became a reaction from the subversive and pro- German Socialism and internationalism that conspired during the war, to defeat, not only the Italian people, but the home fronts of the Allied people as well. In the spring of 1919, the Fasci di Combattimento, mainly ex-soldiers, was in existence, and from them grew in 1921, the Fascist National Party.

Fasces are a symbol of civic authority originating in ancient Rome. The fasces carried by the lictors before certain of the Roman magistrates; with which malefactors were beaten before execution. They consisted of a number of rods cut from the birch (Plin. H. N. xvi. 30.), or elm tree (Plaut. Asin. iii. 2. 29.), wattled together, and bound round with red thongs into the form of a fascine. During the reign of the kings, and under the first years of the republic, an axe [securis] was likewise inserted among the rods, which terminates at the top in a lion's head turned to the front.

The fasces appear to have been in later times made of birch (Mulla, Plin. xvi. § 75), but in earlier of the twigs of the elm (Plant. Asin. iii. 2, 29; ii. 3, 74). They are said to have been derived from Vetulonia, a city of Etruria (Sil. Ital. viii. 485; cf. Liv. i. 8): but for this there is no real authority.

Twelve were carried before each of the kings by twelve lictors; and on the expulsion of the Tarquins, one of the consuls was preceded by twelve lictors with the fasces and secures, and the other by the same number of lictors with the fasces only, or, according to some accounts, with crowns round them. (Dion. Hal. v. 2.) But P. Valerius Publicola, who gave to the people the right of provocatio, ordained that the secures should be removed from the fasces, and allowed only one of the consuls to be preceded by the lictors while they were at Rome. (Cie. de Rep. ii. 31; Valer. Max. iv. 1. § 1.) The other consul was attended only by a single accensus. When they were out of Rome, and at the head of the army, each of the consuls retained the axe in the fasces, and was preceded by his own lictors. (Dion. Hal. r. 19; Liv. xxiv. 9, xxviii. 27.)

The tribunes of the plebs, the aediles and quaestors, had no lictors in the city (Plut. Quaest. Som. 81; xiii. 12), with the exception of the aedile who acted as jiidex quaestionis inter sicarios (Cic. Ctuent. 53, 147); but in the provinces the quaestors pro praetore were permitted to have the fasces (Cic. pro Piano. 41, 98). When a general had gained a victory, and had been saluted as Imperator by his soldiers, his fasces were always crowned with laurel.

After the consulate of Publicola, no magistrate, except a dictator (Liv. ii. 18.), was permitted to use the fasces with an axe in the city of Rome (Cic. de Rep. ii. 31. VaL Max. iv. I. I.); the employment of both together being restricted to the consuls at the head of their armies (Liv. xxiv. 9.), and to the quaestors in their provinces. (Cic. Flam. 41.) When the decemviri were first appointed, the fasces were only carried before the one who presided for the day (Liv. iii. 33); and it was not till the second decemvirate, when they began to act in a tyrannical manner, that the fasces with the axe were carried before each of the ten.

In the modern US House of Representatives, the Speaker’s rostrum is the focal point of the Chamber. From here, the proceedings of the House are directed and recorded, so it has both practical and symbolic importance. The details and materials have changed over the course of the space’s history, but the symbols and images surrounding it have remained consistent. Victorian taste was practically synonymous with “old and outdated” by the time the Chamber needed extensive repairs in the 1940s. So, when the Chamber underwent a complete overhaul beginning in 1947, a fresh look was in order. The new décor was influenced by the classically inspired and restrained Federal style—as seen in the oldest parts of the Capitol.

The original rostrum was made entirely from marble, decked out in high Victorian style. The wall behind it was adorned with painted cast iron and plaster, and included fasces — a Roman symbol of authority composed of an axe surrounded by a bundle of rods — and floral motifs. The new rostrum and desks were made from walnut, with decorations of hand-carved wreaths and inscriptions reading “Union,” “Justice,” “Tolerance,” “Liberty,” and “Peace” on its front. Relief carvings of laurel branches are on the front of the upper level. The white cast-iron decorative panels behind the rostrum were replaced with grey marble. The fasces motif was retained on either side of the US flag, though the new versions were cast in bronze.

The United States adopted fasces as a symbol of the authority of Congress and as a reference to Republican Rome. The Founding Fathers consciously cultivated this association during the formation of the United States. Fasces also refer to the philosophy of American democracy. Like the thin rods bound together in fasces, the small individual states achieve their strength and stability through their union under the federal government.

The name 'Fascia' was assumed by the new band of militant patriots to distinguish it from other 'Associations,' 'Societies,' 'Unions' of war veterans. It was only when the success of the organization seemed assured, that the content of the word Fascia was examined, and the old Roman name was recalled, Fastis Liltorio, symbol of order, authority, discipline. In the meantime the participants in the movement had come to be known as Fascisti (Fascists), and later the movement itself as Fascism. Originally, however, the word Fascisms was not intended to indicate the profession of any body of doctrine. The Fascisti entered upon their victorious career unfettered by theories, inspired only by the single determination to do each day's work as it presented itself, and to solve problems practically one by one; the only preconceived Fascist programme was that of creating a reorganized Modem Italy, disciplined and prosperous at home, respected and, if necessary, feared abroad.

At first valuable organisations for the defence of the interests of former soldiers, the Fasci gradually admitted as members large numbers of young men whom the war had left without any certain means of livelihood, and who were too proud or too lazy to work with their hands. The element thus introduced into the Fasci was a turbulent one; and the Fascisti formed excellent material for such military adventures as that of Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Opposed to the Fasci for Revolutionary Action of pre-war days were the Social-Democrats, whose ideals of pacifism and humahitarianism, voiced as arguments for neutrality, were often cloaks for pro-Germanism. Immediately after the war these two factions were in opposition again, the Social-Democrats taking the aggressive on a wave of popular reaction in a war-weary nation against what was now being dubbed an interventionalists' war. Honorable wounds were reckoned a badge of shame and the maimed of the war were laughed at. Their decorations were torn off and violence was shown to ex-soldiers by those who had evaded service. Both sides, however, were revolutionary and inflamed with radical ideals.

The industrial and commercial classes and the landed proprietors would have been more than human had they refused to make use of the ready-found organisation of the Fasci in order to defend themselves against the assaults of Labor. Money was all that was wanting to the Fascisti; and financial assistance was not grudged them by the classes opposed to Labour. The methods employed by the Fascist! are those of violence; and their growing numbers are rendering them less hesitating in the exercise of force.

During the first three months of 1921 the Fascisti let loose a veritable Terror throughout the length and breadth of Italy. Accustomed as the Italians are to violent manifestations of party passion, they were shocked by the daily reports, in a crescendo of revolting details, from towns so far apart as Bari and Trieste, of fatal encounters, murders, and the destruction of property. Amid the frequency and fierceness of these class- battles, which seemed to threaten the country with civil war, the Government. affected an attitude of neutrality, in which, however, a certain leaning towards the Fascist! could be detected. It is true that Carabinieri, Royal Guards, and troops were called out to restore order wherever trouble occurred ; but their intervention was lukewarm except when the Fascisti were getting the worst of it.

The result of the general elections of 15 May 1921 showed clearly that Italy was determined not to quit the path of social progress upon which it had definitely entered. A coalition founded on a reactionary movement was defeated. It was soon seen that the new Chamber was so constituted that only a regrouping of the progressive parties could make a stable Government possible. The Socialists were returned with a loss of only fourteen seats, and the Communists with a loss of three. Signor Bonomi, a former Socialist and Minister of War, succeeded in assuring himself of a majority among the groups of the Centre and the Moderate Left. No sooner had the new Government been formed than intrigues were begun to overthrow it.

In 1921 Mussolini directed the first occupation of the factories in Italy in the "Battle of Dalmine" at Bergamo, after which 600 factories employing 500,000 hands were taken over. But the responsibilities of possession and power did not taste as sweet to the workers as they may have expected and the spoils were soon returned to their owners. Had they been the stuff to run factories satisfactorily, Mussolini would doubtless have formed a Syndicalist - which is Italian for trade union - state.

The active interest of the Fascisti in the domestic life of Italy was not aroused to any appreciable extent until the menace of revolutionary propaganda and the factory "occupations" threatened to weaken the Government's diplomatic attempts to gain possession of the Adriatic outposts. Fascisti violence, therefore, did not gain general headway until 1921; in fact, the apogee of fury was not reached until the elections in May 1921.

The reality of the crisis the Fascisti encountered was unquestionable. Italy was in the grip of a revolutionary movement absolutely unique in tactic, but the results of which would doubtless have been, in time, as disastrous as the Bolshevist experiment. To all practical purposes the Government under the leadership of Signer Giolitti had abdicated all control over the industrial life of the nation. A new sovereignty - a Soviet sovereignty - was in process of being erected by the workers, who had occupied "and barricaded the factories. The famous European correspondents were hastening south to witness the third experiment in proletarian dictatorship. Italy was already being ostracised by the world; the dollar was quoted at more than thirty lire; trade was collapsing; shipments were being frantically held up; tourists were fleeing to the frontiers.

The year 1922 was a most troubled period, not only for political Fascism but also for national syndicalism. The latter had to defend itself against the accusation, everywhere widely spread, that it was an organization of strike breakers at the service of the employers, an accusation which was readily accepted by the simple minds of the workers. On the other hand it met with serious difficulties even among employers, who had been compelled to close their industries against the subversive factions and who had therefore become firm on matters of self-defence and also very defiant. In August, 1922, when the Fascists took possession of the Milan municipality that had been looted clean and plunged into debt by the Socialists, Mussolini said that "they were probably heading for a trades union state of Fascist trades unions."

On October 28, 1922, Mussolini's Black Shirts marched on Rome, and the Fascist party took control of the Italian parliament and established a Syndicalist state, that is, of unions of employers and labor.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2016 16:50:41 ZULU