“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