Benito Mussolini’s speeches of March 23, 1919, at Piazza San Sepolcro, proclaiming the founding of the Fasci di Combattimento
On 23 March, 1919, a meeting was held in a hall at Milan’s Piazza San Sepolcro. The audience of roughly 120 people comprised an eclectic mixture of Arditi, Republicans, soldiers, national-syndicalists, Futurists, nationalists, and revisionist socialists. Nobility rubbed soldiers with peasants; famous artists like Marinetti mingled with decorated officers like Captain Ferruccio Vecchi. Many of the attendees wore black shirts and carried clubs and black flags. The purpose of the meeting, as organized by infamous ex-socialist Benito Mussolini and his syndicalist compatriot Michele Bianchi, was to weld the many like-minded nationalist-revolutionary fascio into a single, united organization under centralized leadership. Mussolini opened the meeting with a morning speech, and closed it with an evening speech – speeches which announced the birth of a new political movement founded on nationalism, corporatism, and class-collaboration. These early addresses are especially notable for their pro-republican sentiments and ambivalent stances on democracy, indicative of early fascism’s status as a political expression of national-syndicalist ideological concepts.
Mussolini’s Morning Speech
First of all, a few words regarding the agenda.
Without undue formality or pedantry, I shall read to you three declarations that seem to me to be worthy of discussion and a vote. Later, in the afternoon, we can resume discussion of our platform declaration. I must tell you right off that we dare not bog down in details; if we wish to act, we must grasp reality in its broad essentials, without going into minute details.
“The meeting of March 23 extends its greetings and its reverent and unforgetful thoughts first of all to those sons of Italy who have given their lives for the grandeur of the fatherland and the freedom of the world, to the wounded and sick, to all the fighters and ex-prisoners who carried out their duty; and it declares that it is ready to give energetic support to claims of both a material and moral nature that may be set forth by the servicemen’s associations.”
“The meeting of March 23 declares that it is opposed to the imperialism of other peoples at the expense of Italy, and declares that it is opposed to any eventual Italian imperialism that works to the detriment of other people. It accepts the supreme postulate of a League of Nations, which presupposes the integrity of each nation – integrity which, so far as Italy is concerned, must be realized in the Alps and along the Adriatic through her claim to Fiume and Dalmatia.”
“The meeting of March 23 pledges the Fascists to sabotage in every way the candidates of neutralists in all the various parties.”
Mussolini’s Afternoon Speech
I shall dispense with the idea of delivering a long speech. We don’t need to place ourselves programatically on a revolutionary footing because, in a historic sense, we already did so in 1915. It isn’t necessary to set forth too analytical a program.
If Bolshevism could prove to us that it guarantees a people’s greatness and that its regime is better than others, we wouldn’t be frightened by it. But it has now been demonstrated beyond a doubt that Bolshevism has ruined the economic life of Russia. Over there, every kind of economic activity, from agriculture to industry, is completely paralyzed. Famine and hunger prevail. Not only that, but Bolshevism is a peculiarly Russian phenomenon, to which our Western civilizations, starting with that of the Germans, have been resistant. We declare war against socialism, not because it is socialist but because it has opposed nationalism. Although we can discuss the question of what is socialism, what is its program, and what are its tactics, one thing is obvious: the official Italian Socialist Party has been reactionary and absolutely conservative. If its views had prevailed, our survival in the world of today would be impossible. It is clear that the Socialist party will not be able to assume leadership of a program of renewal and reconstruction. We who have led the attack against political life in these past few years are going to expose the responsibilities of the official Socialist party.
It is inevitable that majorities become static, whereas minorities are dynamic. We intend to be an active minority, to attract the proletariat away from the official Socialist party. But if the middle class thinks that we are going to be their lightning rods, they are mistaken. We must go halfway toward meeting the workers. Right at the time of the armistice I wrote that we must approach the workers who were returning from the trenches, because it would be odious and Bolshevik not to recognize the rights of those had fought in the war. We must, therefore, accept the demands of the working classes. Do they want an eight-hour day? Tomorrow will the miners and laborers who work at night demand six hours? Sickness and old-age insurance? Worker control over industry? We shall support these demands, partly because we want the workers to get accustomed to responsibilities of management and to learn as a result that it isn’t easy to operate a business successfully.
These are our postulates, ours for the reasons that I said before and because in history there are inevitable cycles whereby everything is renewed and changed. If syndicalist doctrines maintain that one can find among the masses the necessary leadership capable of taking over the management of labor, we shall not object, especially if this movement takes into account two basic facts: the true nature of the productive process, and the reality of the nation.
As for economic democracy, we favor national syndicalism and reject state intervention whenever it aims at throttling the creation of wealth.
We shall fight against technological and moral backwardness. There are industrialists who shun both technological and moral innovations. If they don’t find the strength to transform themselves, they will be swept aside. We must impress upon the workers, however, that it is one thing to destroy, and quite another to build. Destruction can be the work of an hour, but construction may require years or centuries.
Economic democracy – this must be our motto. And now let us turn to the subject of political democracy.
I have the impression that the present regime in Italy has failed. It is clear to everyone that a crisis now exists. During the war all of us sensed the inadequacy of the government; today we know that our victory was due solely to the virtues of the Italian people, not to the intelligence and ability of its leaders.
We must not be fainthearted, now that the future nature of the political system is to be determined. We must act fast. If the present regime is going to be superseded, we must be ready to take its place. For this reason, we are establishing the Fasci as organs of creativity and agitation that will be ready to rush into the piazzas and cry out, “The right to the political succession belongs to us, because we were the ones who pushed the country into the war and led it to victory!”
Our program includes political reforms. The Senate must be abolished. But while we draw up this death certificate, let us add that in recent months the Senate has proved itself to be much superior to the Chamber. [A voice: “That doesn’t take much!”] True enough, but even that little bit is a fact. In any case, we want to abolish that feudal organism.
We demand universal suffrage for both men and women; a system of voting by list on a regional basis; and proportional representation. New elections will produce a national assembly, and we insist that it must decide the question of what form of government the Italian state is to have. It will choose between a republic and a monarchy; and we who have always been inclined towards republicanism declare right here and now that we favor a republic! We are not going to make a retrospective, historical indictment of the monarchy, however. The existing system of political representation cannot satisfy us; we want every distinct interest group to be represented directly. Since I, as a citizen, can vote according to my beliefs, then in the same manner I, as a professional man, should be permitted to vote according to my occupational outlook.
It may be objected that such a program implies a return to the corporations [guilds]. That is not important. The problem is to organize occupational councils that will complement an authentically political system of representation.
But let us not dwell on details. Of all the questions to be resolved, the one that interests us most is that of creating a governing class and endowing it with the necessary powers. For it is quite useless to raise more or less urgent issues if leaders who are capable of coping with them have not been produced.
Our program, upon examination, may be found to resemble others. In particular, one may discover some premises that are analogous to those of the official Socialists. But our position is different in spirit, because it is based on the war and the victory. This enables us to face everything boldly. I should even like to see the Socialists assume power for a while, because it is so very easy to promise paradise and so difficult to produce it. No government tomorrow can demobilize all the soldiers in a few days, nor increase the food supply when it doesn’t exist. But in actuality we cannot allow such an experiment; for, once in power, the official Socialists would want to give Italy an imitation of the Russian phenomenon. And to this all socialist thinkers are opposed, from Branting and Thomas to Bernstein, because the Bolshevik experience, far from abolishing classes, entails a ferocious dictatorship. We are strongly opposed to all forms of dictatorship, whether they be of the saber or the cocked hat, of wealth or numbers. The only dictatorship we acknowledge is that of the will and intelligence.
Therefore, I hope that this assembly will agree to the resolution that accepts the economic demands advanced by the national syndicalists.
With this compass as our guide, we shall quickly succeed in creating a number of Fasci di Combattimento. Tomorrow we shall co-ordinate their activity simultaneously in all the centers of Italy. We are not static people; we are dynamic, and we intend to take our rightful place, which must always be in the vanguard.
Article sourced from Charles F. Delzell’s Mediterranean Fascism, 1919-1945 (1970), Walker & Co.