Mussolini’s Speech to the Workers of Milan

“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. Continue reading

Social-Fascism

“Social Democracy objectively represents the moderate wing of Fascism.” British Communist R. Palme Dutt’s theoretical explanation of the Stalinist concept of “Social-Fascism”

The theory of ‘Social-Fascism’, which held that Social-Democracy was Fascism’s “handmaiden” and its “moderate wing,” was first formalized within the international Marxist-Leninist movement over a number of Comintern meetings throughout 1928-1929. The idea that Social-Democracy and Fascism were ideologically intertwined was not a new one at the time; Zinoviev as early as 1922 had remarked at the Fourth Comintern Congress that: “Not by chance is Mussolini, a renegade from the Second International, a sometime Social-Democrat, now at the head of the counter-revolutionary movement in Italy; not by chance are such as Ebert and Noske at the head of the government in Germany.” Similar observations had been made over the years by other leading Communists, including Clara Zetkin, Leon Trotsky, Earl Browder, and Josef Stalin. Yet it was not until the Comintern introduced the concept of the ‘Third Period’ at the tail-end of the 1920s – i.e., the notion that global capitalism had entered a period of economic collapse and impending revolution – that the complementary theory of Social-Fascism was also officially adopted and began to directly shape Communist tactics and propaganda. The claim that Social-Democrats were working in concert with the bourgeoisie to stymie the nigh-inevitable proletarian revolution and to build a reactionary fascist state was not always popular or well-understood among Communism’s grass-roots supporters, particularly as it seemed to often translate (as was most notably the case in Germany) into Communist parties directing the bulk of their hostile energies against fellow workers in the ‘reformist’ parties, rather than against actual outright ‘Fascists’. One of the more notable attempts to allay some of this confusion and to give the idea of Social-Fascism a more complete theoretical foundation occurred in the 1934 book Fascism and Social Revolution, by Rajani Palme Dutt. In his book Dutt, a British-Indian Communist and one of Stalinism’s more erudite English-language theoreticians, outlined in detail some of the Marxist-Leninist analyses of Fascism with which many have already become familiar: that it is “a means of capitalist class rule in conditions of extreme decay,” that it is “the organisation of the entire capitalist state upon the basis of permanent civil war,” and so on. A significant segment of Dutt’s book is also given over to examining the relationship between Social-Democracy and Fascism, and it is the chapter dealing with this topic which has been excerpted below. What makes Dutt’s analysis on this topic particularly compelling is that it does not just focus on painting Social-Democracy as a capitalist tool for manipulating workers into the service of the bourgeoisie. Instead, Dutt goes into some detail examining the alleged shared ideological roots between Social-Democracy and Fascism, intimating that the two do have some form of common intellectual lineage, particularly through Social-Democracy’s alleged “abandonment” of Marxism and internationalism during the Great War. While Dutt (like most Marxists) is reluctant to ascribe any serious, pre-War theoretical foundations to Fascism, his admission that there is nonetheless an actual, direct relationship between Socialism and Fascism is still particularly noteworthy, especially given how reluctant many on the Left today seem to be when it comes to acknowledging the uncomfortable fact that Fascism and National Socialism actually began as evolutions (or heresies) of Marxist doctrine.  

Social Democracy and Fascism
From R. Palme Dutt’s Fascism and Social Revolution (1934)

It is evident from the previous survey of the historical development of Fascism in Italy, Germany, and Austria that the role of Social Democracy is of decisive importance in the development to Fascism. The understanding of these two closely-related phenomena of the post-war period, of modern Social Democracy and of Fascism, is of key importance for the whole understanding of post-war capitalist politics. The whole question, however, is ringed round with controversy, and requires very careful further analysis, if the real issues of Fascism, and the conditions of the growth of Fascism are to be understood.

It should be explained that the term “Social Democracy” is here used only to cover the post-war phenomenon, the post-1914 Social Democratic Parties which subsequently united to form the post-war Second International or “Labour and Socialist International” in 1923. Although the tendencies of opportunist parliamentary corruption and absorption into the capitalist State were already strong and growing before the war throughout the imperialist epoch, even while the nominal programme of international revolutionary Marxism remained, and were increasingly fought by the revolutionary wing within these parties since the beginning of the twentieth century, it was only the decisive test of the imperialist war in 1914 that brought these tendencies to their full working out and openly revealed these parties as having passed over to capitalism. The direct passing over in this way since 1914 of large organisations of the working-class movement in all the imperialist countries, and especially of the parliamentary and trade union leadership, to open unity with capitalism and with the capitalist State, is a big historical fact; and the subsequent evolution of these parties since the war has played a large role, in the early years in the defeating of the working-class revolution, and in the subsequent years in the growth of Fascism.

This latter role was already showing itself in very marked preliminary forms in those secondary states where White dictatorships were established, in Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, etc. In the period of the reconstruction and partial stabilisation of capitalism with the aid of Social Democracy, and still more since the development of the world economic crisis and the shattering of the basis of capitalist reconstruction, this character has become increasingly marked throughout Social Democracy. A process of “fascisation” in a whole variety of forms and stages, as well as of playing directly into the hands of Fascism, can be traced. Continue reading

Pelley’s Christian Commonwealth

“For Christianity and the Constitution!” Silver Legion of America leader William Dudley Pelley and his program for a ‘Christian Commonwealth’

Fringe movements, whether in politics or religion, tend to attract fringe individuals. George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, once made the observation that: “Creativity IS fanaticism. Every creative genius has had to be a fanatic. Many of them have been burned at the stake… In between the Communists and the Nazis is the great mass of non-fanatics, the TV watchers and the comic book readers.” He might have had a point. It is hard to be a revolutionary or a radical without being a fanatic to some degree – and fanaticism of any kind is, by definition, not exactly “normal.” William Dudley Pelley, who led the fascistic Silver Legion of America (the ‘Silver Shirts’) during the interwar era, was almost the quintessential example of the kinds of fringe individuals who frequently find their way into radical politics. A successful journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had been radicalized through his time covering the Russian Revolution and by his experiences with Jewish film executives, Pelley in the mid-1920s began experiencing divine ‘visions’ which led him into a career as a best-selling spiritualist teacher and writer. Pelley believed that his visions were sent by Christ and that he had been chosen for a great purpose, and it was these visions which inspired him to found the Silver Legion in 1933 with a goal of bringing about the renewal of the United States on both a spiritual and a material level. The USA’s rebirth under the Silver Legion would see it become a “Christian Commonwealth” – a society still fundamentally based on the American Constitution, but made both more equitable and more efficient through application of the principles of ‘Christian Economics’ revealed to Pelley in his mystical and clairvoyant visions. Pelley spelled out the essence of his ideas in a number of works; his overview of the ‘Christian Commonwealth’ and its economic precepts, excerpted below, is taken from his book No More Hunger! This book was first published in 1933, but the text below is taken from a revised edition published after WWII (my copy is from 1961). So far as I am aware, the only significant difference between the original and revised editions is the removal of a chapter in which Pelley calls for blacks, Mexicans, and “improvident backwoods whites” to be made wards of the state and put onto Native American-style reservations where they can be tapped for domestic labor; Pelley, for all his eccentricities (he also became a UFO enthusiast in the 1950s), was apparently down-to-earth enough to know which way the post-War wind was blowing.

The Program for a Christian Commonwealth
From William Dudley Pelley’s
“No More Hunger”

Unfortunately, when the average man hears the words “new system” uttered or when some enthusiastic person begins to prate about a “better economic order”, the immediate conclusion is drawn that some sort of violent revolution is being recommended or promoted, or that the sponsor is indulging in philosophical day-dreams because he had lost his business or can’t find a job.

Furthermore, a Wise Teacher has aptly remarked: “Tell men not too great truths with suddenness, lest they turn and rend you, or call you addled in your wits.”

Over the years we have had every sort of makeshift plan to cure our economic ills: the Townsend Plan, the Upton Sinclair Plan, the Utopian Plan, and others.

The trouble with most of these palliatives has been that they were not advanced by practical economists who would take into account the country’s actual plight of lost buying power that cannot be restored along the old profit-making and profit-taking lines.

Some of these Plans contained commendable recommendations for redistributing wealth on a more equitable basis but did not get down to brass tacks and face the staggering truth that there is precious little unborrowed or unpledged wealth let to be distributed. Furthermore, such wealth as they would redistribute would have to be seized by confiscatory methods. To loot the present rich, or soak the fortunate that the unfortunate may benefit, is equally deplorable with making the poor man of the present face his fate and like it.

What most of the economic strategists have been and are really trying to do, whether they are honest enough to admit it or not, is to find some plan that will jump all of us out of poverty in a day and a night while at the same time being careful not to alter any of the fallacious methods that have always been employed for accumulating wealth, and that in the hands of master manipulators have resulted in exactly the evils that have beggared us today.

They want to retain all the old evils while at the same time abolishing them. They want to go right along taking profits on the predatory basis while at the same time curbing the activities of all individuals who seem to do it successfully. Continue reading

Fascism in Britain

An early pamphlet by British Union of Fascists leader Sir Oswald Mosley, outlining the fascist creed and its application to British conditions

The pamphlet transcribed below provides an interesting example of some of the early propaganda writing produced by the British Union of Fascists. The version I have is undated, but there are some indications within the text which offer hints as to its publication history – the explicit description of the fasces rather than the “flash and circle” as the BUF’s party symbol, for example, suggests a publication date before 1935, which is when the latter was adopted by the Mosley Movement as its new logo. The mention of “the grey shirt of our ordinary members” likewise indicates an early publication period, probably sometime between 1932 and 1933, when probationary BUF members were still wearing a grey rather than black uniform; the grey shirt was later adopted specifically by the Cadets, the BUF youth movement. Regardless of the date, the pamphlet is a fairly thorough summation of the BUF’s political aims, covering the various key issues with which Mosley was concerned (economic breakdown, the domestic market, trade, peace, Empire, and the Corporate State) in his usual accessible style. Particularly noteworthy are some of the comments Mosley makes expressing his strong affinity for Europe (“We are proud also of our European civilisation… Rome [is] the mother of European civilisation…”) and his desire for a united Europe of peaceful, allied fascist states. A cynic might regard this stance as a by-product of Mussolini’s covert funding of and influence over the BUF, particularly as the Duce had begun explicitly supporting the concept of a “universal fascism” in 1930, a strategy which culminated in the founding of the ‘fascist internationale’ CAUR (Comitati d’azione per l’Universalità di Roma, the “Action Committees for the Universality of Rome”) in 1933. Someone more generous might see this position instead as an early indication of Mosley’s prototypical Pan-European inclinations, which would later emerge in full during his wartime imprisonment and would thoroughly define the entirety of his political thought and activity throughout the rest of his life. Regardless, his position on this topic  sets the ideology of the BUF apart from völkisch movements like German National Socialism, which viewed its ideals as intrinsically and inseparably bound up with the blood origins of its adherents. 

FASCISM IN BRITAIN
Sir Oswald Mosley
Leader, British Union of FascistsFascism in Britain

Fascism has come to Great Britain. It comes to each great nation in turn as it reaches the crisis which is inevitable in the modern age. That crisis is inevitable because an epoch of civilisation has come to an end. It is our task to bring to birth a new civilisation, and to organise its system.

Fascism in Britain is the faith of those who, ever since the War, have realised that the old system was dead and that a new system must be created. We have tried in turn all of the established Parties, in an effort to secure from them a policy of action to meet the new facts of the new age. None of the old Parties or the old Leaders realised those facts, or devised a policy to meet them. They have consistently misled and deceived the public. Nevertheless, it was only right to give the established system and the old Parties the opportunity to meet the new situation. We Fascists make no apology for having tried to secure a policy of action from each of the old Parties in turn before embarking on the drastic course of forming a new movement.1 It was only at a last resort that we threw down our challenge to the existing system. If we had failed to make that challenge, we should have failed in our duty to our country. All Parties since the War have betrayed us and have betrayed the nation. We now embody and formulate the principles for which we have fought since the War: the modern creed of organised fascism. It is the new faith, born of the post-war period in the last decade. It is not a product of Italy, nor of any foreign country. Like all the other political faiths, such as Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism, it is common to all countries. Far quicker, however, than those creeds of the past, it has found an organised form in Britain within a few years of its birth. That organisation is necessary before the old civilisation crumbles to collapse, and we can lose no time in the building of the new.

Fascism is the system of the next stage of civilisation. The epoch of civilisation which has come to an end is that of nineteenth century individualism. It was the period of “each for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.” With many abuses and much suffering to the masses, it worked in the early days of industrialism. It has now ceased to work in the twentieth century because of the development of science and of industry, for reasons which will be examined in the next section. The nineteenth century created the parties of the great vested interests, such as Conservatism and Liberalism, which were organisations to assist those interests to do what they liked at the expense of the nation. In answer to those Parties, the nineteenth century also produced Socialism, which was a blind revolt against inhuman conditions, and expressed the determination of yet another class also to do what it liked at the expense of the nation. Continue reading