1920s >> 1923 >> no-224-april-1923

Socialism and the Fascisti

The Socialist Party accepts the view that it is necessary for the workers before they can begin to introduce Socialism to conquer the powers of Government in order that they may control the Governmental machinery, and through it the armed forces. The fulfilment of our programme requires that a majority of the workers shall understand and want Socialism. Given such a majority and its reflex in a majority of Socialist delegates on local councils and in the House of Commons, the workers will be in a position to impose their will on the present ruling class; an appeal to armed force from whom will be met by the military, acting under the instructions of the Socialist delegates.

This attitude is subjected to many criticisms, one of which is that the capture of the political machinery will not give the power we assert. Those who make this criticism argue that while political power is necessary it can be obtained only by the workers building up a rival organisation and with it overthrowing the capitalist State. They deny that the power of the capitalists rests on their control of Parliament, and point to the Fascist movement in Italy as proof that revolutionary Parliamentary action by the workers is futile. The workers must, they argue, organise armed resistance to the ruling class. They do not explain how the workers are going to obtain possession of the arms and organise in such strength as to offer serious opposition to- the Crown forces, and it seems fairly obvious that the capitalists will easily be able to prevent such organisation within the present system. When pressed on this point the exponents of violence look knowing, and make obscure references to the disastrous Irish insurrection now being crushed by the capitalist Free State Government.

Their chief argument is, however, the rise of the Italian Fascisti, who, they say, robbed the workers by armed intimidation of their constitutional gains. If it were shown to be possible that in an advanced and stable capitalist democracy the ruling class were able to throw aside the recognised forms of government, to ignore the institutions which they had proclaimed to be the basis of society, to rule by brute force and to survive, a condition of things would be created requiring the application of methods other than those we advocate. As regards Italy, however, it just doesn’t happen to be true.

What these critics have overlooked is that the Fascist movement existed only by permission of the Italian Government, by the permission, that is, of the people who did control the political machinery and the armed forces.

Nor is there evidence that the Italian workers as a whole had ever reached the stage of desiring Socialism. They had, for instance, not returned a majority of Socialists to the Italian Parliament, nor had they captured more than a minority of the town and other councils.

What is always advanced as proof of their being revolutionary is their seizure of the factories during 1920. But according to the correspondent in Italy of the New York “Nation” (March 8th, 1922) this will bear no such interpretation. The “Nation” article (quoted by the “Western Clarion,” Vancouver, May 1st, 1922) gives the following account of the event. The war gave rise in Italy to a new and powerful group of metal industries with banking connections, known as Peronne Brothers, the allied bank being the Banca Italiana Disconto. It was the Peronne factories, the “Ansaldo Iron and Steel Co.,” which were occupied in 1920.

This group and its banking allies came into conflict with the older concerns, and at the end of the war, with its consequent slackening of demand for iron and steel for war purposes, the position of Peronne Bros. became acute. Naturally the employers sought to resist the wage demands of their workers, and for this purpose entered into alliance with their rivals. It was their betrayal by their rivals, the Banca Commerciale, which caused their defeat and subsequent bankruptcy.

     “The proletarian seizure of the factories was, in its political and juridical episodes a counterattack of ‘safe and sane ‘ industry upon ‘political and new’ industry. The Steel operators (Peronnes) were tricked into resisting the demands of the workers on promise of support from all the other manufacturers ; who at once pacified their labourers with reasonable concessions, knowing well that the Steel industries would not be able to follow suit.”

It is a noteworthy fact that the government of the day did not at once use troops to eject the workers. The “Nation” suggests that this was because Giolitti, the Premier, was in close friendship with the Banca Commerciale and wanted the factories occupied. It certainly is true that the movement came to nothing. If the responsibility for failure is laid on the shoulders of the men’s leaders, this is only another way of saying that the men had no clear idea of their object nor how to attain it : they were, in fact, in a state of unrest, but were not consciously revolutionary, and were therefore not ready to undertake the task of overthrowing capitalism. They decided themselves by ballot vote to evacuate the factories.

As for the Fascisti, a member of the Communist Party of Italy, A. Bordiga. writing in the “Labour Monthly” (Feb. and March, 1923), gives an interesting account of their origin. In brief, he states that the end of the war found the Italian Government faced, like other governments, with the difficult problems of transition to peace. First, there was demobilisation and the absorption of ex-Service men into industry, and then there was the task of disillusioning those who really thought that the workers were going to share in the fruits of victory. To meet the peculiar conditions which arose from having to deal with masses of men who had been under arms for years and had been overwhelmed with flattery and promises, the Government deliberately encouraged the Fascist movement.

That they were able to do so was the result of the unfortunate fact that the Italian Capitalist Government still had the support of the majority of the Italian workers and peasants.

       “After the Nitti, Giolitti, and Bonomi Governments, we had the Facta Cabinet. This type of Government was intended to cover up the complete liberty of action of Fascism in its expansion over the whole country. During the strike in August, 1922, several conflicts took place between the workers and the Fascisti, who were openly aided by the Government. One can quote the example of Bari. During a whole week of fighting, the Fascisti in full force were unable to defeat the Bari workers, who had retired to the working class quarters of the city, and defended themselves by armed force. The Fascisti were forced to retreat, leaving several of their number on the field. But what did the Facta Government do? During the night they surrounded the old town with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of carabineers of the Royal Guard. In the harbour a torpedo boat trained its guns on the workers. Armoured cars and guns were brought up. The workers were taken by surprise during their sleep, the Proletarian leaders were arrested, and the Labour headquarters were occupied. This was the same throughout the country. Wherever Fascism had been beaten back by the workers the power of the State intervened ; workers who resisted were shot down : workers who were guilty of nothing but self-defence were arrested and sentenced ; while the magistrates systematically acquitted the Fascisti, who were generally known to have committed innumerable crimes. Thus the State was the main factor in the development of Fascism.”

Further, while it is correct that the Fascisti were not in a majority in the Italian Parliament, they were compelled because of this to accept into their Cabinet representatives of such other parties as would give a combined majority, and Bordiga considers that it is only a matter of months before Mussolini takes Trade Union officials as well into his government.

The critics who argue from the experience of Italy that an armed minority can ignore parliamentary control are also invited to consider Bordiga’s statement that :

    “Fascism, after having temporarily adopted republicanism, finally rallied to the strictest monarchist loyalism ; and after having loudly and constantly cried out against parliamentary corruption, it has now completely accepted parliamentary procedure.”

Edgar Hardcastle

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