“Fascism establishes the real equality of individuals before labour and the nation.” Benito Mussolini’s 1934 speech to Italian workers from Milan’s Piazza del Duomo
In 1937, Chancellor of Austria Kurt von Schuschnigg wrote of Italian Fascism that it “makes its appeal not, in the first instance, to the ‘haves’, the rich, the capitalists, the successful men. It seeks rather to get hold of the masses, the small people, the workers, the peasants, the youth.” Schuschnigg’s perspective was typical of those who sympathized with the ideology of Italian Fascism or with its leading figure, Benito Mussolini; they saw in Fascism not just a political tool by which nations could maintain order or acquire prestige, but a legitimate economic ideology in its own right, one which was founded on a genuine sense of social justice and which could aid states in overcoming many of the more glaring inequities that were a common, destabilizing symptom of liberal capitalism. The praise and propaganda surrounding corporatism, Fascism’s economic theory, were conversely a common target of Marxists and of some National Socialists, who argued that Fascism ultimately had not dared disturb Italy’s traditional capitalist property relations and that corporatism would in fact strengthen them by forcibly incorporating labour organizations into the state, thereby eliminating workers’ independence of action and helping to shore up the existing class system. Some of these doubts were shared even by Italian Fascists, who were at times frustrated by the slow pace of corporatist reform and by the powerful influence which big business wielded when it came to the shaping of the Italian state. ‘Real’ corporatism, built through compromise and negotiation between the government, business, the labour syndicates, and the different wings of the Fascist Party, did not truly start to take shape until around 1930, when the National Council of Corporations was formally established. The twenty-two corporations which were to make up the ‘Corporate State’ followed in 1934, founded via a series of decrees and laws issued throughout the year. The speech by Mussolini reproduced below, given in October 1934 to the workers of Milan from the Piazza del Duomo, occurred in the midst of this ferment of legal and political activity. The speech primarily is a general paean to the promise of corporatism, expressing Mussolini’s conception that the world was witnessing the inauguration of a new, collectivist economy based on “social justice” and “the power and glory of labour.” Although it would be several more years before its champions would consider the corporatist revolution close to any level of completion (the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations would not formally replace Italy’s Chamber of Deputies until early 1939, for example), the reforms of 1934 and Mussolini’s acclamation of the “corporate solution” in his Milan speech were regarded as significant milestones by sympathizers. Ezra Pound, a prominent foreign admirer of Fascist achievements, observed that with Mussolini’s speech “the problem of production was solved” and that “the great and final collapse of Scarcity Economics” was finally at hand. Although perhaps a little hyperbolic in his adulation, Pound’s jubilant praise is demonstrative of how seriously many took both the promises of Fascist theory and the avowals made by its chief advocate, Mussolini.
Mussolini’s Speech to the Workers of Milan
October 6, 1934
Blackshirts of Milan, comrade workers!
This formidable gathering of people closes the cycle of my three days in Milan.
The first gathering was that of the farmers whose gifts will help to ease the poverty of many families all over Italy. They set an example to the whole nation of civic and national solidarity, as it is understood by the rural workers of the province of Milan.
Today this city, forever youthful and vigorous, and indissolubly bound to my life, has slackened the rhythm of its heart-beat.
At the present moment you are the protagonists of an event which the political history of tomorrow will remember as the “speech to the workers of Milan.”
At this moment you are surrounded by millions and millions of Italians, while other people are listening in across the seas and beyond the mountain ranges.
I must ask you to give me your attention for a few minutes, although these minutes may become the subject of longer meditations afterwards.
The welcome extended to me in Milan did not surprise me, but moved me instead. Do not be astonished by this statement. Indeed, if a day should come when the heart ceases to thrill, that day would be the beginning of the end.
Five years ago, at this time, the pillars of a temple which seemed to defy the ages, crashed with terrific noise. Countless fortunes were annihilated, and many people did not outlive the disaster.
What was left under the ruins? Not only the remnants of few or many individuals, but also the end of a phase of contemporary history, of a period which may be defined as liberal-capitalistic economy.
Those who take pleasure in surveying the past speak of a crisis. It is not a crisis in the traditional sense of the term, it is the passage from one phase of civilisation to another.
It is no longer economy aiming at individual profit, but economy concerned with collective interests.
In the face of this accepted and irrevocable decline there are only two means whereby to discipline the phenomenon of production.
The first would be to place the whole of national economy under State control, but we reject this solution because we do not intend to multiply by ten the already imposing number of State employees.
The other is the solution imposed by logic and by the very development of events: the corporate solution which means the self-discipline of production entrusted to producers. When I say producers I do not mean only industrialists or employers, but I also mean the workers.
Fascism establishes the real equality of individuals before labour and before the nation. The difference is in the scale and scope of responsibilities.
In speaking to the thickly populated and venturesome city of Bari, I said that the object of the regime in the economic field is to ensure higher social justice for the whole Italian people.
This declaration, this pledge, I solemnly renew before you today, and I promise it shall be fulfilled.
What does higher social justice mean? It means work guaranteed, fair wages, decent homes, it means the possibility of continuous evolution and improvement. Nor is this enough. It means that the workers must enter more and more intimately into the productive process and share its necessary discipline.
From 1929 to the present day the mass of Italian workers have drawn closer to the Fascist Revolution. What other attitude could they have assumed? That of hostility or reserve?
How could one be hostile to a movement which enfolds the better part of the Italian people and exalts their inextinguishable passion for greatness?
Could the attitude have been one of indifference? Those who are indifferent have never made and never will make history.
There was a third attitude to take, which is the one the masses have already accepted, being a clear, explicit, sincere adhesion to the spirit and institutions of the Fascist Revolution.
In so far as the past century was the century of capitalistic power, the Twentieth century is the century of the power and glory of labour. Modern science has succeeded in multiplying the possibilities of wealth; science, controlled and spurred by the State, must now solve another problem: the problem of the distribution of wealth, in order that the illogic, paradoxical and cruel fact of poverty in the midst of abundance, may cease to exist. This calls upon our energy and will-power.
Furthermore this creative act, which has placed Italy at the vanguard of all countries requires that the nation should be left alone and at peace internationally.
Both conditions are bound to one another. This is why I shall make a brief survey of the horizon, which I shall restrict to neighbouring countries towards which our attitude cannot be one of indifference, but must either be hostile or friendly.
Let us begin with the East. It is evident that there are no great possibilities of improving relations with neighbours beyond the Alps and the Adriatic while the press polemics which wound us in the flesh continue. The first condition for a policy of friendship, not intended to become frozen in diplomatic protocols, but to slide gradually into the heart of the multitude, is that the valour of the Italian Army which fought for everybody, should not be doubted; shreds of flesh were left in the trenches of the Carso, of Macedonia, of Bligny. Six-hundred thousand fell for the common victory; a victory which actually became common only in June, on the banks of the Piave.
Nevertheless we who feel strong and are strong, may offer, once more, the possibility of an understanding of which the precise terms already exist. We have defended and will defend the independence of the Austrian republic, which was consecrated by the blood of a Chancellor who was physically small but great in heart and soul.1 Those who say that Italy has designs of aggression, that she wishes to impose a sort of protectorate over that Republic, are either not aware of the facts or are lying deliberately.
This gives me the opportunity to state that the development of European history is inconceivable without Germany, but that it is necessary that certain currents and certain circles should not convey the impression that Germany wishes to remain outside the trend of European history.
Our relations with Switzerland are excellent, and will remain such, not only for the next ten years, but for a period which one can surmise to be much longer. We only wish to see preserved and stressed the Italian character of the Canton Ticino, and this not only in our interest, but chiefly in the interest, and for the future of the Swiss republic.
There is no doubt that over the past year at least, our relations with France have improved considerably.
Let me open a brief parenthesis: your attitude to this exposition is acutely intelligent, which proves and counterproves to me that, whereas the diplomatic method must be reserve, one can always speak directly to the people in outlining the trend of foreign politics for a country as great as Italy. The atmosphere has improved and if an agreement is arrived at, as we sincerely hope it may, it will prove useful and fruitful to both countries in the general interest of Europe. We will see all this before the end of October or the beginning of November.
The improvement of relations between the various countries of Europe is all the more important in that the Disarmament Conference has failed.2
No doubt citizen Henderson3, like all Britishers who respect themselves, is stubborn, but he will not succeed in bringing back to life the disarmist Lazarus crushed and buried under the weight of warships and cannons.
Things being as they are, no one must not be surprised if we now make directly for a general military preparation of the Italian people.
This is the other aspect of the corporate system. In order that the morale of the troops of labour be as high as is necessary, we have advocated the postulate of higher social justice for all the Italian people, because a people who fail to find at home the conditions of life worthy of the Fascist age and of European standards, are a people who, at the hour of need, will be unable to give their utmost.
The future cannot be planned like an itinerary, or a time table. One must not place too long a mortgage on the future. Indeed, as we have often said before, we are absolutely convinced that Fascism is bound to become the standard type of civilisation of our century for Europe and for Italy.
As to the future, be it certain or uncertain, one thing remains as a granite pillar which nothing can demolish or injure: it is our passion, our faith, and our will.
If there is a true and fruitful peace, which must be accompanied by justice, we will adorn our rifles with the olive branch. But if this should not come to pass, take it for granted that we, tempered as we are by the Fascist climate, will adorn the point of our bayonets with the oak and laurel of victory!
1. A reference to the recent assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss (b.1892 – d.1934), former Chancellor of Austria. Mussolini was a strong backer of the Austrian Republic, viewing it as a useful buffer state between Italy and Germany, and had also apparently enjoyed a fairly friendly personal relationship with Dollfuss. Of his attitude to Austria, he wrote in a February 1935 edition of Il Popolo d’Italia: “I believe that by the end of the year, with the renewed strengthening of the State and the recovery of the economic situation, everybody will be convinced that Austria can live; and thus that a second German State can exist in Europe, German, but master of its own destiny.”
2. The World Disarmament Conference was held in Geneva through February 1932 to November 1934. The Conference was marred by difficulties, particularly as the economic and political instability of the period made the prospect of disarmament unattractive for many European states. Germany’s decision to completely withdraw form the Geneva Conference on 14 October, 1933 is often given as one of the chief causes of the Conference’s failure. Hitler set out the position of his government on the matter in a speech to the Reichstag on 17 May, 1933: “…I am obliged to state that the reason for the present armaments of France or Poland can under no circumstances be the fear by those nations of a German invasion, for such fear would only be justified by the possession by Germany of modern offensive weapons. Germany, however, does not possess such modern offensive weapons at all; she has neither heavy artillery nor tanks nor bombing airplanes nor poisonous gases. The only nation therefore which might justifiably fear invasion is the German nation, which not only may not possess offensive weapons but is also restricted in its right to defensive weapons and is even forbidden to erect frontier fortifications. Germany is at all times prepared to renounce offensive weapons if the rest of the world does the same… The German Government and the German people will under no circumstances allow themselves to be forced to sign what would mean a perpetuation of the degradation of Germany…”