It is both significant and encouraging that our movement, sprung from the genius of one man, form his faith in the destinies of the Italian people, and from that moral staunches of his that might truly be called roman, has become an object of study outside of the boundaries of Italy and even of Europe. History records movements which though led by men of unquestioned power and of mighty aspirations never could overstep their narrow bounds, and soon exhausted themselves. But fascism has already spread beyond the Italian borders. Some of its principles are being incorporated in the fundamental doctrines of other states-monarchies and republics alike. They are relied upon to fix new bearings for the distressed and storm-tossed public consciousness that has issued from the World War.
Fascism in its preliminary phase, was not mere reaction to bolshevism. It came forward with a positive social content of its own. Patriotic fervor, desire for discipline, and voluntary acceptance of one’s own social and political rank were its distinctive features. It is not, however my intention to minimize the Bolshevik menace. Anyone who lived through the stormy years that immediately followed the close of the World War understands how close we came to national disintegration. The Russian revolution was overflowing westward. The red troops at the gates of Warsaw were pointing to more distant goals: to Germany, to the Balkans, to the Adriatic, Clever messengers of panic with their insensate doctrines were preparing the ground for the advent of bolshevism. In spite of the failure of socialistic attempts in Hungary, in Germany and in Vienna, people in Italy expected from day to day the dictatorship of workers and farmers. The occupation of the factories countenanced by Giolitti who, in the name of liberalism had dominated the public life of Italy for thirty years, showed clearly that the old organism was no longer capable of withstanding the impatient attacks of destructive mobs. The situation was critical. A counter movement was inevitable.
Economic discontent, moreover, was aggravated by political disappointments and disillusionments. At Versailles, Italy had been crushed; her rights were ignored, her aspirations derided. In the midst of this pervading abjectness, there was one sole flash of noble indignation: D’Annunzio’s occupation of Fiume. For the rest, craven renunciation, everywhere, in everything. The government was even discussing the advisability of granting the Yugo Slavs a border line at the very gates of Trieste, and demagogic poltroonery compelled us to abandon Valona in Albania in spite of the enormous sacrifices we had undergone on its account, and in spite also of the fact that our occupation had brought a new civilization to that country ever harassed by alternating factions. Our little colonial world too was astir. We barely held our own in the ports of Tripoli and Bengazi. This advanced political decay was accompanied by a monetary derangement that was draining off the wealth of the entire country.
In the midst of these dangers, and out of the ruins of all our hopes heroically entertained through the sacrifice of a victorious war, fascism arose as a movement of reaction inspired by patriotic exasperation. Benito Mussolini through the powerful call of his newspaper, Popolo d’Italia, rallied round himself all the faithful of Italy who still believed in her destinies. He draughted a brief constitution for this new organization now called Fasci Italiani di Combattimento which he hurled with every means, of violence or of persuasion, against red radicalism and against the ruling middle class which had proved itself woefully unequal to its task.
The years which had followed the proclamation of Italian unity and of Rome as the capital of the kingdom, should be studied by those who wish to understand the present situation. Italy matured her national consciousness in the light of her past history, her ancient military exploits, the majesty of Roman law, the toils and accomplishments of past generations. The memory of Rome has ever been the main spiritual constituent of Italian nationalism. To this was added the glorious civilization that came to us from the city states. We felt that our Italic stock was not effete. We hoped that Italian unity would restore to our people something of their former grandeur.
In fact, between 1870 and 1914 there were indications of an endeavor to enrich our modern life by reclaiming the heritage of our ancient civilization. But all those who tried to inspire the masses with a willingness to make modern Italy worthy of her past met repeatedly with invincible apathy if not with theoretical hostility. Liberalism held its own as the least harmful of political doctrines, while socialism, and importation from Germany and France, and imposed arbitrarily upon the Italian tradition, turned out to be a school for political corruption. There had come to be a huge abyss between the enthusiasm of the forerunners and the absenteeism of the masses, trained as they were to belief in the miraculous efficacy of socialistic dogma and at the same time lulled to inaction by the swift rotation of the alternating liberal and democratic governments.
Crispi was a precursor of strong politics as Carducci was of the classical revival. Both of them deserved a better fortune. Recognition of their noble endeavors and of the soundness of their views came only later as a consequence of the World War and of the Fascist revolution. The war was sentimentally explicable as the necessary condition for redeeming Trent and Trieste. It had its origin however in the fateful and obscure biddings of our social instinct which made it imperative for us to take part in it in order that we might afterwards join in the assises of peace on a par with the great powers of the world.
It is unnecessary here to refer to our role in the war. The Italian people can by the mere force of figures give evidence of their heroism, of their power, of their sacrifices. This solemn testimony cannot possibly be waived; and the rights thus won should meet with due recognition. Italy in 1918 was hopefully exalted by victory, and the joy of those days was bound up in the vision of a glorious and prosperous future that would surely arrive.
It would be idle now to insist on the shameful conduct of the Socialists in the aftermath of the war, and on the inexplicable and sinful forbearance of the liberals. Were we to enumerate all the wrongs committed by those who either through ignorance or through ill will harmed our country, we might almost be led to despair for the soundness and force of our race. Against this host of evil powers, the Fasces moved in arms bent upon stopping the systematic sabotage of the results of victory. We were weighted down, it is true, by a huge deficit in our budget, by and excessive population, by adverse immigration laws in foreign countries by the complete relaxation of all discipline, by disorder in all ranks of society, by the collapse of our public service, and by our diplomatic check at Versailles, so that those first months were full of anguish, full of indignant revolt against the sins of the socialists, and against the incompetence of the liberals, both of which increased as the situation grew worse. But the Fascists persevered in their devotion and in their violence. It may be difficult for Americans who have a different mentality from ours to comprehend and justify the phenomenon of violence. Violence when properly and opportunely employed has a moral content of great value. In the period I am referring to, sermons, teachings, suasions were insufficient and even futile. It soon appeared to the elite of thought and action that the only way to face the situation was to attack mightily and bodily the howling mobs of bolshevism. Courage was the guiding virtue of the Fascists; Italy was their goal, their leader and maker, Il Duce, Mussolini. We had innumerable martyrs, but we were ever accompanied by success as we stormed and destroyed the socialistic strongholds and the communistic chambers of labor. Soon a sense of graver responsibility came upon our more representative men. The obtuseness of the leaders of the opposition, however, their scorn for us, and even outside help, fortunately (as we see it now) prevented an exact appraisal of the faces of fascism. The last Anti-Fascist attempt was the insensate general strike of July 1922, proclaimed with great apparatus of force by the Socialists and by the other labor organizations. Then came the end. The government helplessly capitulated while the Fascists seized all the branches of the public services and operated the railroads, to post offices, the telegraphs; they maintained order and discipline in the factories, in the cities and in the fields. The strikers beaten on every side confessed their defeat and scattered.
The exploits of fascism deserve recognition: they are great achievements of a political, military and syndical power. Even in the thickest of the fight, we realized the fundamental importance of labor questions and of state authority. Without mincing its terms, fascism began at the very start to oppose demagogic currents and to guard itself against the ensnare of liberalism. Those who misrepresent historical events affirm that at the time of the March on Rome, the red menace had come to an end. This is false, for bolshevism was still dangerously active; it had penetrated the small country towns; it was undermining our bureaucracy; it was tampering with our army and navy, and was not without influence on the church.
The Liberal party became powerless, had abandoned its post. Mr. Facta, three times empowered to form a ministry, could not with all his efforts keep his men together. In the meantime fascism was developing its leaders, was gathering its weapons, and was hurling its legions on Rome. The seizure of the capital, which has been painted by renegades as a comfortable excursion was instead a difficult feat of military preparation. Rome was the objective upon which the legions of the South, of Tuscany, of the Marches and of the Abruzzi converged, each commanded by valiant leaders. Their followers were men of faith and enthusiasm veterans and heroes of the World War. Their bold march did not meet with determined military resistance; but had that happened, measures had previously been taken to insure success.
The Italian army, the glorious army of Vittorio Venetto was not drawn into the fray this example of rectitude worthy of serious consideration, was at the same time and indication of our future strength. For as long as the army refrains from taking sides, and solely obedient to its commander, develops skill and morale that is to be used only against a foreign enemy, the country is well protected and has nothing to fear.
Fascism won its victory just in time. Italy was on the verge of collapse. The country was in such condition that if the historic march had been delayed a little longer, the soviets, alas! The liberal soviets, would have given Italy the last grotesque experiment of demagogy.
Statesmen and and would-be political advisers should beware of preconceived notions. Before passing judgement the critic should familiarize himself with the history, the nature, the qualities, the aspirations of a people. A revolution likewise should not be appraised merely by the number of its victims or by its excesses: it should be studied serenely and without prejudice. No one, not even our worst enemy, will dare say that Mussolini after his victorious march on Rome and his assumption of full powers, had an easy task before him.
The State was almost bankrupt; national cohesion had been reduced to minimum and the gravest internal problems were clamoring for a solution. Foreign countries were looking on, suspiciously. The party was reconstituting itself in watchful waiting; but the enemies of fascism, bent upon revenge and filled with hatred, were plotting to fall upon us from out of the masonic lairs, those typical dens of Italian plotters. Today there are facile critics who state that Mussolini would have done better had he, immediately after the march on Rome, proclaimed the exceptional laws which were approved only recently, and employed force to rid himself of this opponents, to break up hostile parties and to form his cabinet out of uncompromising Fascists.
But Mussolini showed his superior statesmanship. He did not wish to repudiate certain elements of the old political forces. He thought that his determination, his self-denial, his inspiring disinterestedness shown in his continuous activates and in his everyday tasks, would disarm his worst enemies, and bring about a sincere reconciliation. He not only though thus but acted accordingly.
The first result of Mussolini’s assumption of power was the return of perfect discipline and of orderly subordination. America, which enjoys a deserved eminence and a merited fortune, owes its position not solely to the natural characteristics of its people but also to their sense of duty and to their obedience to laws. Our people on the other hand, wonderful as they are in intellectual attainments, have ever been prone to insubordination. It has been the task of this new historic movement to develop in them a sense of discipline to harmonize Latin inspiration with the firmness of the northern people. Mussolini at all times an advocate and a living example of strenuous and disinterred activity, has proved himself the man for this task.
Fascism has been criticized for its lack of programs, for the uncertainty of its principles, for its practice of polishing up old theories and presenting them as new doctrines, for its tendency to live day by day tentatively. But programs are not to be traced by close scrutiny, like lodes of gold. A program is life itself in harmony with past history and with well-grounded future aspirations. Rigid schemes are better suited to business concerns than they are to the life off a people. What is required is ideas, clear and simple, and above all, situated to the ethos of the people. Mussolini himself in a solemn and categorical affirmation gave a central and fruitful idea. He set forth in these words the principle of all our action, the end of all our efforts:
“Nothing outside of the State: All within the State: Nothing against the State.”
Italians for too long a time had accustomed themselves to revile the nation. The role of the State was looked upon as that of the policeman and of the tax collector. It was high time that a loftier and truer conception be instilled in the minds of the people. None of those whose pride and fortune it was to be born Italians should ever again be allowed to feel that they were outside of, and hostile to, the State and the nation. The qualities of our race were and are priceless: it was simply a question of potentiating them through order and discipline. We have in our racial constituents all the elements of success. We have produced thinkers and creators of the highest order, investors who have benefited the entire world; we have a working class, thoughtful an sober and active that has helped to build up many parts of the world. Fascism arose when Italians realized the high value of these past attainments, the persistence of the character that produced them, the necessity of making this an active force in the present and for the future. This realization and this inspiration has been the religion of fascism. It has endeavored to develop habits of collaboration so as to avoid harmful strife between capital and labor. It sensed the importance of two thousand years of Catholic faith in the making of our civilization and how necessary therefore it was to maintain our present development in intimate contact with this spiritual force. Hence its relentless and effective hostility of anti-clericalism, to the unsavory propaganda of “free thought.” To the materialistic theories of Socialism, to the supposed doctrines of republicanism. Here was the program of fascism: this has been its life.
Economic difficulties too and the problem of protection demanded and obtained our ablest efforts. The question of the South and of the Islands was taken up and started toward its solution. The needs of the ex-combatants, of mutilated soldiers, and of the families of the war dead received immediate and satisfactory attention. Our foreign relations had to be reshaped. Military reforms were introduced: the battle for the defense of our currency was waged to a victorious end. Critics sometimes center their attention on minor details and fail to see the huge block of positive results, the thoroughness with which our conditions have been made over, the readiness with which all merits, all devotions, and all honest activates have in this new and reorganized Italy received a commensurate reward.
Intellectual labor is again receiving its deserved recognition. Public services which had been allowed to crumble, function perfectly in the new order of things. Our agricultural regions are again pacified after the terrific social struggles that immediately followed the war. Our industries are prosperous. We have done wonders within the libations imposed upon us by earth of capital and lack of raw materials. Our foreign policy, too, had consistently been firm, dignified and peaceful.
A new spirit has come upon our people. A sense of racial pride has seized all classes. All men look not to the fatherland as their higher and better life. Those who have felt neith the beauty of their new civic existence, not the urge of the this novel inspiration, have shown a singular incapacity to understand; and when they have proceeded to revile this renaissance as some have done abroad, they have given evidence of the most ignoble moral insensibility.
There is no need to recapitulate in detail the nationwide results of the Fascist Revolution. Journalists from all parts of the world have studied Italy from all points of view. Some have lingered on details; some have been superficial; but the greater number have acquainted their readers with the huge mass of work that Fascism has turned out. Yet the major results are still there to attain. It will take decades to see the full fruits of our new discipline. We are storing p our virtues,our silence, our economies. Our principles have now just begun to permeate the masses; faith is the great resource now of all classes in Italy. Our country is solidly behind its greater leader.Everything is booming now in Italy. Success crowns our efforts in the arts, in the sports, in our wonderful constructions. Rome is again shining upon the world.There is no bombast in this. Our program of action is clear definite. The corporate organization of producers is the best and most characteristic example of the earnestness and force of Fascism. All countries will have to study this experiment,which is far more important than anything the socialists are likely to do. This new Magna Charta marks a fresh start in the history of human labor.Fascism is not an aristocratic movement of a few chieftains. Fascism is a manner of conceiving life; it is order in liberty, national liberty to which individual freedom must be subordinated. The entire kingdom is unified; regionalism is being wiped out; all the efforts of the nation are bent upon a common goal. This unity of purpose and this harmony of endeavor must impress the American public.There are a few professional irreconcilables who scour the world preaching rancorously and maliciously against the present regime. We must warn alloutsiders and especially Americans to be on their guard against such hostile propaganda and against such men as Nitti, a small-minded and incompetent demagogue who tries to convert his personal mishaps into a worldwide calamity against Salvemini, the professional opponent of every regime. He has crucified the deities. He labeled Giolitti as a brigand; he opposed the claims of Italy in the most critical moment of our history when he should at least have been reticent. He puts a price on his soul. He is now vanquished and disillusioned. His studies are caricatures. In the cultural field, he has tried to follow the most absurd paths,always acting counter to the exigencies of our Latin mind. He has been throughout a scheming traitor with never a noble gesture or a redeeming emotion.The other opponents are men of no account. They could cheaply have been brought for our cause, had we not detained such immoral contracts. The problem of the emigres therefore no longer interests the nation and is looked upon merely as the inevitable sequel to every revolution.
The future alone will show all the inherent power of Fascism, but of this future there are already clear and unmistakable indications. Americans themselves had had occasion to observe the rectitude of our conduct and the development of our resources. For wealth is not solely economic: it is made up also of spiritual potentialities that reveal themselves in the arts and in the sciences, in the creation, which make our country rich.
Italy tempers now the steel of both the farmers’ plows and of the sculptors’ chisels; she reclaims social strata just as she reclaims marshy lands. She exalts her military soul because therein she finds order, force and the safety of the land. She draws within the orbit of the state the laboring classes which are an integral part of the nation. We are a proletarian nation, but our race is high born. We ask no favors.
All we want is to work and produce with full consciousness of our worth. The history of Fascism, which has become the history of Italy, is just beginning. A new ruling class is being made and trained. Our new leaders are men young in years but old in experience and judgment. The country is now run be statesmen and no longer by politicians. Men obey the sovereign law of discipline and duty. Fascism tends to the selection of the fittest, and under their leadership works not for the party’s interest, but in obedience to its soul’s bidding; to make the name of Italy feared and respected in the world.