The Fascist movement in Italian life *
Anthony M. Ludovici
The English Review 37, 1923, pp. 487492
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It is never an easy task to understand the domestic politics of foreign countries. Differences of race, of national traditions and of culture play a part which renders any accurate calculation extremely difficult. Who, for instance, understands Bolshevism, how it works and what it really is? We can realise how the huge Muscovite population of Russia, which in 1914 had hardly emerged from barbarism, readily relapsed into that condition when once the unprecedented strain of a great war, combined with misrule and feeble leadership, led to the overthrow of the Government; but as a fact and as a term does it convey anything to our minds, apart from its obvious effects upon the country of its birth? Could it have any existence away from the soil on which it grew? Would it stand a chance among a people that had enjoyed many centuries of active political life? And when the barbarians of Russia threaten to spread their barbarism beyond the frontiers of their own land, may we not hope to see those radical differences of race and national tradition intangible and elusive though they may be springing up everywhere to resist the Mongolian scourge?
What is true of Bolshevism, however, is also true of every essentially indigenous political growth. We are still much too national and dissimilar even to understand one another; how can we possibly fear mutual infection?
Fascism is no exception to this rule. It is as difficult to grasp as any other form of purely national politics, and the more people write about it the more perplexing and mystifying does it appear. Certainly Dr Gorgolini's book cannot be said to be very helpful; and, unless the reader of this volume has had access to other sources of information, it is unlikely that he will profit much from its perusal. Its worst fault is its total lack of methodical exposition.
* By Dott. Pietro Gorgolini (Fisher Unwin, 1923, 10s net).
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In order to understand a little about the Fascist movement, it is essential that the events which led up to it should be carefully studied; and yet nowhere does Dr Gorgolini give a plain, simple and chronological outline of these events. Again, it is impossible to estimate the full value of the newness of Fascism if it really is something wholly new unless we are told precisely in what this newness consists. It is not enough to say that "Fascism, understanding the need for a new life, raises its voice against the ancient forms of morality and constitutionalism, against old and brutal customs, old economy and worn-out finance" (p. 127). There are far too many of these vague generalisations in Dr Gorgolini's book. We want to know what these innovations are. We cannot appreciate Fascism, except as a mere reaction against Communistic disruption and anarchy, unless we do know what they are. Two-thirds of the way through the volume, the author, indeed, confesses that Fascism has yet to "formulate its first principle" (p. 137); but how can we conceive of it as a truly creative movement, worthy of the enormous amount of attention it has attracted, and springing from a central group of new ideas, if it is not already in possession of these first principles? Nor is the repeated enunciation of the Fascist programme of practical politics throughout this volume sufficient to make up for this deficiency. For we see nothing in these measures which promises either a new world or a new order. Perhaps this is not intended? Why, then, lay so much stress on the immense novelty of this movement? Why take such pains to deny that it is merely a wise "defensive reaction of the bourgeois class", to quote Enrico Ferri? Admitting that it is supremely wise, and led by supremely wise men, have we any reason to suppose that it is anything more than that? To judge from Dr Gorgolini's book, we confess that we have absolutely none whatever; nor do the numerous quotations from Mussolini's speeches and articles help us much. We believe, however, that Fascism is very much greater than it is here represented to be. We do not accept Dr Gorgolini's description of it; and the reasons for our belief we shall now attempt to give as briefly as possible.
It is romantic to expect any new and potent principle
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in politics to-day except popular inspiration and national enthusiasm which will, as by a stroke of the wand, set everything right. The novelty of Fascism, therefore, must not be understood to consist in a bright scheme for a new order which will bring about Utopia. It partakes far more of the nature of a new attitude of mind, a new emotional and intellectual outlook, which, by moulding men's minds, will postpone sine die that disintegration of modern society which so many of us are prone, with unscrupulous fatalism, to regard as the inevitable development of modern conditions. The fatalist's fatal phrase "It must come!" is, we take it, the principal enemy against which Fascism is fighting. The indolent acquiescence of boredom, fatigue, and stupidity which characterises the attitude of most cultivated people in Western Europe to-day, and which gives most Communists, anarchists and all other barbarians more than half their strength, is precisely the spirit that Mussolini would fain banish from the modern world. And this, if anything, is his great innovation. To deny that wholesale socialistic reforms, or that communism, is our ultimate and inevitable bourne; to uproot the belief now gaining acceptance that there is something in the nature of a necessary evolution in the progress of extreme socialistic and communistic ideas these, we take it, are among the principal objects of Fascism; and perhaps the most useful quotation from Mussolini's speeches in Dr Gorgolini's volume, and the only one which we in England ought to take as our watchword, is: "Our aim is reality" (p. 46).
Certainly our aim ought to be reality; but what does that mean to-day? It means, in the first place, to get rid of clap-trap; to do away with the chilling fear that paralyses the indolent and the blasé when the sound of the enemy's footsteps is heard in the near distance. It means, above all, the intelligent realisation of the precise value of our political ideals.
Consider, for instance, the looseness of our grasp of such questions as the relation of Might to Right, in modern England. Nothing could be less real; for, while we cheerfully acknowledge any Right, however new and inconvenient, when once it is supported by sufficient Might, we are frequently much too apathetic or too unimaginative
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deliberately to gather the Might about an old and long-established Right when it is being assailed or undermined by determined enemies. It is too easily forgotten by a people accustomed to Parliamentary debates, and lulled into partial somnolence by their soporific effect, that in order to act with power in the political world to-day, Might is just as necessary as it ever was; and Nelson's maxim that, to negotiate with effect, force should be at hand in a position to act, has lost none of its validity since that famous leader of men successfully concluded his negotiations in the Baltic in the year 1801. It is true that we acknowledge this principle in yielding before majorities at elections; for what is a majority if it is not latent Might supporting a particular Right? We acknowledge it also in submitting to certain modern scourges, such as the Right to strike, and therefore the Right to hold up the transport, the coal supplies or the food of the community. But somehow we shrink from it when we are faced with the pressing need of vindicating a Right long established and traditional; and are too much inclined in a moment of crisis to rely upon the very feeble method of argument. At all events, it is this principle of Nelson's that forms part of the aim which is reality; and it is one of the principles that Mussolini put into practice with his "Fasci di Combattimento".
The state of Italy was lamentable. The whole country peasants, artisans, civil servants and bourgeoisie deplored Italy's small and inadequate share in the fruits of victory, and began to revile and openly to attack the war party, the Government, and the pescecani (the war profiteers and the new rich). The only two parties in the state that were popular were the Catholics and the Socialists; for they had been opposed to the war throughout. Between these two important parties the small band of disunited Liberals and Democrats soon proved powerless, and neither Nitti nor Giolotti was able to govern with them. Disorder broke out everywhere, fomented by discontent and doubtless by a good deal of alien (particularly Bolshevik) influence as well. From 1919 to 1920 the revolutionary spirit spread by leaps and bounds. Three large cities Naples, Florence, and Turin elected Communistic administrations; committees of the Reds were being formed in all directions. The peasants began to
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abandon the farms and the cattle under their charge in order to take possession of all the uncultivated areas. Meanwhile, the workmen in the towns appropriated the factories and held them by force of arms. Strikes occurred in every industrial centre, and the Communists, seeing their Might increase more and more, proceeded to assume every Right, and did exactly as they pleased.
The strength of the Socialists was the outcome, not only of their excellent organisation, but also of their intimate connection with the C.G.T (the General Confederation of Labour). Both of these parties had grown to huge proportions during the war. In 1914, for instance, the P.U.S (Partito Ufficiale Socialista) numbered only 42,000; in 1919 they had increased to 100,000 active members. In 1914 the C.G.T numbered only 300,000, while in 1919 they had grown to a body 1,200,000 strong.
The formidable power of this combination made the Socialist Party one of the strongest in the state. At the first sitting of Parliament after the elections of November 1919, 124 out of the 156 Socialists returned, shouting "Long live Lenin!", while the rest of the House acclaimed the King; and thenceforward they marched from one victory to the other, growing ever more truculent in their manner and more extravagant in their claims.
What was to be done? The fatalists shrugged their shoulders and, declaring that "it was bound to come", prepared to bow their heads before what they regarded as a "natural evolution". And when at last things were so bad that the trains ceased to run, and the postal service no longer delivered the letters entrusted to its care; when factories fell into the hands of the labour hordes, and agriculture was abandoned by the peasants, there was not one of the Italian fatalists who did not say in the same spirit in which thousands to-day in England speak dolefully of the inevitability of a Labour Government that now the revolution had come there was nothing to do but acquiesce in it.
Mussolini and his followers, however, were less romantic, less fatalistic, less inept. They saw the Communists and the Maximalist Socialists claiming ever greater Rights because they were gathering ever greater Might. Viewing the situation in the Fascist, or realistic, spirit, they concluded that the only chance of making opposing
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Rights prevail, or of giving them at least a chance of survival, was not by calling their implacable opponents to a conference, or by proceeding to a general pow-wow of any description, however prodigious; it was to fling across the whole front of the communistic and socialistic forces another and, if possible, a superior form of Might. Nay, more! they saw with the clarity of southerners that this Might must not merely consist of a strong army with a weapon, ready to return violence for violence, blow for blow. And what was the result? Everywhere, almost, the Fascists vindicated their Right. In some parts, indeed, the Communists fled ignominiously like the deserters they had welcomed into their ranks, and hundreds were reduced to the humiliating position of seeking the protection of the Carabineers, and even of the Royal Guard!
The strength of the Fascists was their speedy recognition of the realities behind the situation. This, indeed, is the whole strength of the movement. And whether we examine their excellent Agrarian policy, or their Industrial or Colonial programme, it is always this same sense of reality, together with their disinclination to bow their heads before an unpleasant fate, or to have anything to do with clap-trap and romantic ideals, which is the distinguishing feature of their contribution to modern politics.
Fascism may lose these features and decline; but as long as it retains them it cannot fail to flourish. We may not be able to learn anything from their programme, because their problems are too different from our own; we may not be able to imitate their methods, because our characters are too dissimilar; but from Mussolini's first principle, "Our aim is reality", we have a tremendous deal to learn, and we cannot begin our study of it too early. For if the political life of England to-day is both decrepit and feeble everywhere except in the very quarters that are struggling for the overthrow of the existing order, it is precisely because there are no principles more urgently needed by modern Englishmen than that pursuit of reality, that hatred of fatalism, that suspicion of clap-trap and romantic ideals, and, above all, that fervent patriotism, which are the heart and soul of the Fascist movement.