PSI 1922-1943 - Under Mussolini
Mussolini was the bitterest agitator and the most aggressive propagandist the Italian Socialists had ever seen. He was not for the class struggle. He was for class war. His articles and editorials were so bitter, so venomous, so belligerent, that all Italy came to know Mussolini, the merciless revolutionist. He demanded the leadership of the Socialist party, as he has demanded the Government, and the party surrendered. He assumed the editorship of the "Avanti," the official organ of the Socialist movement, and, fearing "neither Rome nor hell," set out to "put blood, nerves, and iron in a huge empty body." Under his leadership the Socialist party assumed a belligerent attitude in Italian politics.
In June, 1914, Benito Mussolini was on the brink of conquering Italy as the leader of a turbulent revolutionary Socialism. Over night he deserted his comrades, entered the war, fought as a gallant soldier and, returning as a wounded hero, organized a movement which has beaten, murdered, lynched his former friends and destroyed the proletarian army of which he was once the trusted general. Mussolini had a large number of adherents, but was still in a minority. He then founded an independent newspaper advocating war against Germany and Austria, and, shortly before the end of the year, was expelled from the party.
On November 15, 1914, the first issue of "II Popolo d'ltalia," the bitterest antiSocialist organ in Italy, appeared on the news-stands of Milan. Through its columns Mussolini cried out for war-for war against Austria and Germany, for war against the Socialist and Communist parties, against all the enemies of Italy. He fought for and in the war. All Italy listened to the emotional, dramatic, inspiring war speeches of Mussolini, the redeemed. Four years later ho began the organization of the Fasci. The first to respond to his call were the Arditi. With his million Fascisti, who compose the most remarkable movement of youth in the history of any nation, he brought the Socialist and Communist parties to their knees.
Mussolini's first resource, for his war on the Socialist Party, was that group of patriotic nationalistic Socialists who had abandoned internationalism to fight through the war. Among these some of the best, most energetic elements of the old Socialism were to be found. The cleavage had been, indeed, a long standing one. Official Socialism preached redemption of the Italian workingman as part of a world redemption of the workingman. The syndicalistic current in the Italian proletarian movement sought immediate specific gains for the Italian worker as an Italian.
Some of the first Fasci di combattimento (soldiers' unions) had programs for the regeneration of Italy on a radical, syndicalistic basis. Now since, in its final phases, Fascismo triumphs over Socialism by absorbing hundreds of thousands of the old Socialist rank-and-file, this tendency in Fascismo has been strengthened.
In one of its aspects Fascismo represented the nationalization of Italian Socialism. To ignore the Socialistic origins of Mussolini himself, and to ignore the role played in Fascismo by such men as the syndicalist Bianchi, Secretary General of the Fascisti, one has to be a thorough gentleman and more or less half-witted.
A second, and very important resource for Mussolini's war on the Socialists was capitalistic, industrialist Italy-those manufacturers and employers who kept meeting more and more exorbitant demands from their organized workers, who saw their profits eliminated by sabotage, and their factories seized by labor. Such men welcomed in Fascismo an instrument, providentially supplied, for the disruption of labor organizations. Their expectations from the Fascisti stopped, also, just there. Supplying funds aplenty for the early consolidation of the movement, and funds less willingly for the later expansion of the movement, they never intended to put Mussolini into power.
But the most important of all resources was the Socialist Party itself - which by its mistakes, its cowardice, its stupidities, kept the ground fertilized for Fascista growth and ran to cover when the clarion call for the class war sounded. Nobody knew it (except Mussolini, who had once bossed the gang) - but the Italian Socialist coalition of Party and Federation was a political phantom, which talked the language of revolution, but was really a pensioner on governmental patronage. It was a bureaucracy of labor leaders wheedling a vast working class by promises it had not the courage to keep.
The world expected Italian Socialism to do something after the war: so did its rank-and-file. The populace, indeed, seized the factories and part of the land. The Socialist bureaucracy kept on "propaganding": deriding under the name of militarism the blood sacrifice of the war; disrupting the country by petty strikes and sabotage; irritating and harassing the public by countless annoyances. Now since the average peasant and laborer knows little, and cared less, about political theories, and followed Socialism, or any other -ism, that promised to get him the things he wants, the Socialist Colossus collapsed. The convinced Socialists, in loyalty to the international proletarian idea, went over to Communism ; the nominal Socialists, under the fascination of the national idea, which promised them what they wanted, went over to Fascismo.
Mussolini came to power from a mandate secured from the Italian King, Vittorio Emanuele III, to form a coalition government. On August 2,1921, Victor Emmanuel III reigning in the Kingdom of Italy, accredited representatives of the two sovereign factions, the Socialists and the Fasci, under the august influence of the President of a lesser third faction, the Chamber of Deputies, met at Rome and signed a solemn Treaty of Peace whereby each agreed henceforth to respect the law of the land. The mental state of the country can be judged by the fact that this was considered a great triumph for the new Prime Minister.
To counteract the growing influence of the Fascists, the Socialists and Communists declared a general strike in August 1922. The strike was ill-prepared. It was suppressed by the government troops in cooperation with the Fascists. After the second general strike, the property class relied more and more upon the Fascists to defeat Socialism and Communism by force.
Mussolini rose to power from within the system, not as an outside agitator, and received his mandate from the highest authority in the state. It was not until 1925 that Mussolini announced his authoritarian, single-party regime. This move was a reaction to the possible collapse of his government by the Aventine Secession, a Parliamentary protest brought about by the Fascist assassination of the Unitary Socialist Party leader Giacomo Matteotti.
This crisis, called the Aventine Secession, recalls an event in Roman politics when in 500 B.C. the people withdrew to the Aventine Hill of Rome in order to protest the patrician rulers. After the Matteoti assassination, roughly 100 center-left deputies, under the leadership of Giovanni Amendola, staged a walk out to protest against Mussolini and have the King remove him. Failing to obtain sympathy from either the King or the Vatican, Mussolini was able to deprive them of their seats in Parliament and outlaw the Socialist, Catholic (Popolari), Republican, and Democratic Liberal Parties.
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