“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…”
3. A reference to Arthur Henderson (b.1863 – d.1935), a senior member of the British Labour Party and the official chairman of the Geneva Conference.
Sorry for offtop, but will there be any posts about Benelux political figures of 1930-s and their ideas? For example about Joris van Severen and Hendrik de Man.
Hendrik de Man definitely, I’ve been looking at putting some of his material on the blog for a while. Never heard of Joris van Severen before, I’ll look into him.
Personally, I did not know about this speech until this ARPLAN Post had brought it to my attention. I am willing to believe that an argument can be made in favor of a correlation between the current Post and the previous one where I discussed about the feasibility of Pan-Germanic Legal Theory (PGLT). Based on the speech, Mussolini was appealing to the Italian people from the standpoint of Catholic Social Teaching as one of the justifications for the emerging Corporatist economy. We can tell from Mussolini’s invocations of Social Justice that the particular term was being specifically understood within its original religious connotations. I say this because most people nowadays understand the term in the context of Social Liberalism. Thus, when most people think of “social justice” in today’s context, what comes to mind is a certain form of Liberal Capitalist opportunism in which appeals to Social Justice are promised but never acted upon.
Regarding the usage of that idea from Roman Catholicism, I should mention that when Mussolini invoked Social Justice as a reference to Catholic Social Teaching, Corporatism was not being intended to be a fulfillment of a national economy centered on the Catholic faith. That is how I would envisage it nearly a century after this speech was delivered: Corporatism is meant to be its own ideological concept. But to our average Italian at that time in 1934, they probably would not notice the fundamental difference between the two distinct concepts. After all, both Corporatism and Catholic Social Teaching do in fact advocate for an economic system that is neither Socialist nor Capitalist but as an entirely different category altogether. What most people did not know – and it is still a common misconception which I sometimes encounter among actual Roman Catholics – is that Catholic Social Teaching’s definitions are too vague and too broad. Its economic model could just as easily include a Social-Democratic Mixed Economy or State Capitalism. And while it is true that Corporatism is an alternative to both National Socialism and Liberal Capitalism, it would be superfluous to claim it could be justified on the grounds of Catholic Social Teaching.
This can be inferred from the various statements made by Mussolini throughout his speech. He advocated for State ownership of the economy, State control over scientific innovation, and that the State eliminate or at least ameliorate Wealth Inequality. He even insisted that the Corporatist economy would eliminate the Profit Motive without proposing an alternative motive to strive for in economic life. Put another way, there is an almost familiar sense of uncertainty in Fascist Italy which reminds me of the same uncertainty that would later occur in the People’s Republic of China during the Dengist economic reforms by the 1980s. In fact, Mussolini even mentioned about Wealth Inequality, a similar topic which was also being discussed by Deng Xiaoping within the context of the “Southern Tour of 1992.” But unlike Deng, was reforming China toward the readoption of aspects of Liberal Capitalism like the openings of financial markets (as it was the case in the Southern Tour), Mussolini was reforming Fascist Italy in the opposite direction. It would seem to be a logical conclusion, given the concessions that the Fascists had already made to the Italian Liberal Capitalists in the 1920s in order to rebuild Italy after World War I.
Why would I draw analogies between Deng and Mussolini, seeing how both men were governing their respective countries under different geopolitical environments? There is a peculiar tidbit of information that you had brought up regarding Ezra Pound’s response to that 1934 speech. Apparently, Pound seemed convinced of Corporatism’s potential that he was willing to proclaim that Corporatism could bring about the end of “‘Scarcity Economics.’” It is a noteworthy assertion to make because Pound was trying to direct us toward the conclusion that Fascist Italy sought to create a “Post-Scarcity Economy,” which is one of the prerequisites of Communism (within Marxist Theory). To be honest, that is an odd statement for me to make regarding somebody like Ezra Pound. My guess is that this was an unconscious remark on Pound’s part since he was certainly not the kind of person to be sympathetic to Communism.
I recently revisited my own research, looking back at what I had written regarding “Corporatism.” There was something else which I did not mention in my original comment. Yes, there was once a time when the Catholic Church did in fact espouse Corporatism, and this was before the Second Vatican Council, even though not everyone in the Church supported it. Not sure if you are aware of this or not, the Church was also open to the possibility of “Distributism” as an alternate model of economic governance, which has turned out to be the case in some circles after Vatican II. Another proposed alternative, especially among those who are from Latin America, is “Liberation Theology” and its favorable views on Marxist Theory. But the topic of Corporatism among Catholic circles is an interesting case since I do not encounter Catholics describing Corporatism in the same sense as the Fascist model.
Meanwhile, in the Social Sciences, it is suggested that there are fundamental differences between the Corporatism of the Catholic Church and the model which was attempted by Fascist Italy. Unlike the Fascist version, the Church’s Corporatism did survive for a time after 1945 among the various “Christian Democratic” parties throughout Western Europe, the parties advocating for some kind of Welfare Capitalism alongside their Social-Democratic counterparts. I say “Christian Democratic” because these parties are essentially a coalescence of Roman Catholic and Protestant parties influenced by Catholic Social Teaching, allowing them to easily cooperate with Social-Democrats under Parliamentary Democracy. If they were once parties representing the political interests of Catholics and Protestants before 1945, then their post-1945 decision to merge into “Christian Democratic parties” was done on grounds that were more ideological (as in a commitment to Parliamentary Democracy and Liberal Capitalism) than theological.
The question on whether any form of Catholic or Protestant politics is driven by their theology or by another ideology per se does matter in the context of Corporatism. If the motive was theological, their model of Corporatism will be closer to Fascist Corporatism or even National Syndicalism like in Franco’s Spain. Similar to my own arguments about the Mormon Church of Utah being an American model for non-Soviet Command Economy, I can also cite the Puritans of New England as an American model for Corporatism. The most interesting aspect about the Puritan version is that it bears a closer resemblance to the Fascist model, including its basic premises and goals. That was the topic of a recently released book, entitled, “The Puritan Ideology of Mobility: Corporatism, the Politics of Place, and the Founding of New England Towns before 1650.” The implications are promising since New England was historically the same place where American Council Democracy, American Nationalism and American Socialism made their debuts within the old Federalist Party.
Moreover, to further distinguish the Fascist model, some social scientists over the years adopted “Tripartism” as the formal designation for the Catholic Church’s Corporatist model. Under a Parliamentary Democracy, coalition governments are supposed to act as the intermediate between the Labor Unions and the Business Community. As part of its purpose in resolving class disputes between the Labor Unions and Business Community, the Parliament is expected to create a “Social Safety Net” designed to deter anyone from making any serious efforts at realizing either National Communism, Marxism-Leninism, Pan-Germanic Socialism, Fascist Corporatism, National Syndicalism, Hamiltonianism or State Capitalism. Basically, any ideology which does not conform to the established dogmas of Liberal Capitalism. The Social Safety Net consisted of the usual array of Welfare Capitalist programs like insurance, childcare and educational assistance grants, subsidized housing, retirement pensions, and so forth. These important factors should account for why I concluded earlier that Catholic Social Teaching also tends to justify a Social-Democratic Mixed Economy as well as other economic models like State Capitalism.
Thus, I can conclude that when some Catholics speak or write favorably of “Corporatism” nowadays, they are not at all referring to Fascist Corporatism but Tripartism. They are trying to justify the Social Safety Net along similar lines as the Social-Democrats, implying that there are “Incentives” in keeping these “Public Goods” around. As for why the Catholic Church lost interested in Tripartism after Vatican II, this cannot be due to Corporatism’s own historical relationship with Fascist Italy. What caused Tripartism to eventually fail was the Social Safety Net being too expensive to maintain some semblance of practicality, hence the waves of privatizations and the gradual dismantling of the “Welfare State” in European nations around the end of the 20th century. Similar conclusions were also being made among the European Social-Democratic parties as well, except in their case they used the economic problems of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries as the pretext.
What instructive lessons could be from the Catholic Church’s stances on Corporatism and its attempts at creating its own version? The Church prefers a balanced approach to economic life, which is similar to its own stances on political life. Economically, that approach involves making some reservations for the Church to operate its educational and social systems, respecting ecclesiastical ownership of the Church’s own means of production. But politically, the State must be able to cooperate with the Church, tolerating its presence and activities in the Socialist Nation. Tripartism was only an attempt by the Church to integrate itself into the framework of a Liberal Capitalist Parliamentary Democracy. Under a different set of circumstances, it is possible that the Church could find ways of tolerating a National Socialist Council Democracy. How the Church intends to integrate itself in those circumstances remains to be seen as a topic that continues to be relevant in Socialist countries with Catholic populations like Cuba.
Do you plan to translate any text by Nicola Bombacci?
I’d love to have some of Bombacci’s material on the blog, but unfortunately I don’t have much experience with any languages other than English or German, so I wouldn’t be able to translate anything by him unless it had already been translated into German. If anyone ever provides me with a good English translation of any of his writing, from a proper source, I’d definitely consider uploading it.