Significant excerpts from “M, son of the century”

Image_Stela Maris Grespan
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By Gláucia Campregher*

Antonio Scurati's book helps to understand the similarities and differences between Italian fascism and Brazilian Bolsonarism

Much has already been said about the fabulous book that Antonio Scurati wrote, telling step by step the first steps of Italian fascism (1919-1925) from the point of view of its central character, Benito Mussolini. Despite the editorial success around the world, which indicates that hundreds of thousands of readers were willing to read the book, I believe that most Brazilians will not have the money, or even more time, to read it all (there are more than 800 pages). . Therefore, and impressed by the similarities but also, and mainly, the differences between Italian fascism and Brazilian Bolsonarism, I thought of making a selection of paragraphs that could convey the main point of the work, which is, in my view, manage to put us in the mood for that tragedy at the moment it was being announced. I think that by getting into the atmosphere of that fateful moment we can become more aware of what is happening in our own. To this end, I continue with quotes from the book (which evolve over time) divided into 4 blocks articulated by a few comments that I make just to help situate the reader. I put different letters to facilitate reading and in bold what seems to me the most crucial.

1) Base – those without a place in society, who are also those without fear.

In 1919 Mussolini (M) founds the nationalist association Fasci di Combattimento which recruited brutalized and impoverished war veterans. Many of these, like himself, were poor workers, many coming from union or socialist party cadres. They had broken off or been expelled (like M) by socialists who did not want Italy's participation in the war. They went and came back to be the base of the Fasci. In the literary voice of M:

“We approach Piazza San Sepolcro. About a hundred people, all men of no importance. We are few and we are dead.”

“We are a people of veterans, a humanity of survivors, of remains. On the nights of extermination, crouched in the craters, a sensation similar to the epileptic's ecstasy stirred us. We spoke briefly, laconic, assertive, in a violent rush. We machine gun the ideas we don't have and then we fall back into silence. We are like ghosts of the unburied who left the word among the people in the rear.”

“I have in front of me only the trench, the dregs of days, the area of ​​combatants, the arena of madmen, the furrows of fields plowed with cannon fire, the criminals, the displaced, the delinquents, the geniuses, the idlers, the petty-bourgeois playboys, the schizophrenics, the neglected, the disappeared, the erratics, the night owls, the ex-convicts, the recidivists, the anarchists, the incendiary trade unionists , the desperate truncheons, a political bohemia of veterans, officers and non-commissioned officers, men skilled in handling firearms or sharps, those who rediscovered themselves violent in the face of the normality of the return, the fanatics incapable of seeing their own ideas clearly, the survivors who, believing themselves to be heroes devoted to death, mistake a badly cured syphilis for a sign of fate. "

“I desire them as the male desires the female, and at the same time I despise them. Yes, I despise them, but it doesn't matter: one era has ended and another has begun. Debris piles up, debris connects to each other. I am the "after" man. And I insist on being. It is with this decaying material - with this residual humanity - that history is made.. "

“Wasn’t that, by chance, how revolutions were always carried out: arming the entire social underworld with guns and grenades?”

“Give the splendor of violence to these citizens of an inscrutable modern metropolis with its dense and thick darkness, to these men subjugated by an existence they do not understand, give a beacon light to their bloody desire for light, give them a destination and they will follow."

M before editor of socialist newspaper NEXT on the return of the war he directs the fascist newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia, its first audience is the hard core of Fasci, os arditis:

“Those fearless fighters, who in their glory days were being humiliated by the High Command with long marches without military objectives on the Venetian plain (...), whose purpose was to use warriors who, overnight, had become cumbersome and useless . (...) Mussolini, hated and professional hater, knew that their rancor built up, that they would soon be disgruntled veterans. He knew that at night, under the tents, they cursed the politicians, the High Commands, the socialists, the bourgeoisie. In the air, there was the “Spanish flu” and, in the lowlands, towards the sea, malaria. As they were marginalized, while they were wasting away from fevers and shameless death receded from their memory, the Arditi shared canteens of brandy and read aloud the words of that man who, from his office in Milan, extolled in them “life without abatement, death without shame”. For three years, they had been an aristocracy of warriors, a phalanx praised on the covers of children's magazines: lapels in the wind, grenades in their hands and a knife between their teeth. Within a few weeks, after returning to civilian life, they would be a mob of misfits. There would be 10 thousand wandering mines. "

2) Opportunity – the bourgeois fear of socialism and the socialists' fear of action.

The socialists were strong then, in the countryside and in the city, in the streets and in the institutions. But for the fascists, they weren't really "men", they weren't the war.

“Mussolini and those who thought like him were impressed, in particular, by the fact that the socialists paraded at the head of the procession women and children. The political hatred screamed from the sensual mouths of women and beardless men was frightening, dismaying and perplexing the type of grown man who had wanted war. The reason was very simple. The anti-militarist and unpatriotic cry of women and children allowed that petty, authoritarian, patriarchal and misogynist man to portend something terrifying and unheard of: a future without him."

Their strikes are getting stronger, but also more strongly feared and repressed by the state police, and their street movements are beginning to be confronted by fascists.

“40 workers on strike paraded to the Arena to the sound of thirty bands, unfurling thousands of red flags and raising signs that cursed the victorious war just concluded. A sadistic frenzy in which the maimed were displayed as horrible living proof of the fight desired by the bosses. The socialists spat in the face of the uniformed officers who, until the day before, had been their attack commanders, asked for land redistribution and amnesty for deserters. To the other Milan, nationalist, patriotic, petty-bourgeois, which in 1915 had given 10 volunteers to the war in favor of Benito Mussolini's Italy, it seemed that, in that procession, "the monsters of decadence were coming back to life", the newly -pacified “was giving in to an illness”.”

“For an instant, the two factions faced each other on either side of the cordon of carabinieri that blocked the exit from Via dei Mercanti. At the head of the socialist column are the women once again, carrying Lenin's portrait and the red flag aloft. Unbridled, joyful, they sing their songs of liberation. They ask for a better life for their own children. They still believe they are there for their parades, their minuets of revolution. At the head of the other cortege, much less numerous, are men who, in the last four years, have lived with the slaughter every day. The disproportion is grotesque. It is the different relationship that the two groups have with death that drives a chasm between them.”

“On the other side of the military cordon against which the socialist procession was launched, a man exhorts the small crowd of bourgeois, officers, university students, Arditi and fascists (...) is a poet. His name is Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and, in 1909, he founded the first historical vanguard of the Novecento Italiano. His manifesto for a poetic futurist movement resonated across Europe, from Paris to Moscow. In it, he proposes destroy museums, libraries, academies of any kind, murder the moonlight and praise the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure or revolt, glorify war – “the only hygiene in the world” .”

Marinetti is not the only poet in the service of fascism. The most important of all was Gabriele D'Annunzio who vied with Mussolini for fascist leadership in the early years, particularly as he was the one who took and occupied Fiume (a border town that Italy had lost in the post-war accords) and made it a fascist experiment.

“The youth of the century, after having escaped death for four years in the trenches across Europe, instead of returning to the economy, the family, religion, ancestors, virtues, days, seems to have slipped into Fiume, carried away by a spree, to put an end to that stupid and useless life.”

“For the political problem, we want: non-submissive foreign policy, electoral law reform, abolition of the Senate. For the social problem, we want: an eight-hour working day, minimum wages, union representations on boards of directors, workers' management of industries, disability and retirement insurance, distribution to peasants of uncultivated land, the efficient reform of the bureaucracy, school secular financed by the State. For the financial problem, we want: extraordinary tax on capital with a progressive character, partial expropriation of all wealth, confiscation of 85% of war profits, confiscation of all assets of religious congregations. For the military problem, we want: an armed nation. Fasci di Combattimento released in 2019)

To which the movement is designed without greater coherence because that is its essence

“Fascism is not a church, it is a gym; it's not a party, it's a movement; it's not a program, it's a passion.”

“Who are the fascists? What are they? Benito Mussolini, its creator, considers the question idle. Yes, of course… they are something new… something unheard of… an anti-party. That's it... fascists are an anti-party! They do anti-politics. Very good. But then, the search for identity must stop there. The important thing is to be something that allows you to avoid the obstacles of coherence, the hindrance of principles. Benito gladly leaves the theories, and their consequent paralysis, to the socialists.”

Once the undead are regimented, guided by the “fate” that M beckons to them, that D'Annunzio illustrates, and that the owners finance, the fascists begin to expand into the petty bourgeoisie, and to grow in boldness. The episodes of violence against the socialists begin.

“Petty bourgeois who hate: these are the people who will form their army. The middle classes degraded because of the warlike speculations of big capital, the officers who cannot accept losing a command to return to the mediocrity of everyday life, the low-ranking bureaucrats who, above all else, feel insulted by the new shoes of the peasant's daughter, the sharecroppers who bought a piece of land post-Caporetto and are now willing to kill to keep it, all good people gripped by panic, consumed by anxiety. People shaken to their very core by an irrepressible desire to submit to a strong man and, at the same time, to dominate the defenseless. They are ready to kiss the shoes of any new boss as long as they are also allowed to step on someone.”

“They grab an indomitable socialist, put a funnel in his mouth, force him to drink 1 liter of laxative. They tie him to the hood of the car and drive around the village while he farts, screeches, shits his pants. Cheap medicine, no bloodshed, no threat of arrests. Impossible not to laugh. And tragicomedy also has other advantages. It prevents the victim from becoming a martyr because shame drives away grief: you can't dedicate a cult to a man who shits his pants. Ridiculousness, finally, has a high pedagogical value. And, on top of that, it is long-lasting, it influences character. Shit, more than blood, extends over a nation's future. The idea of ​​\uXNUMXb\uXNUMXbrevenge, if stained with excrement, is transmitted for decades, from generation to generation. To be erased, the shame of the purgative, seen or suffered, requires nothing less than an apocalypse.”

The socialists, already well established in urban and rural society, carried out strikes and had electoral success, but these did not seem to objectively prepare for the revolution.

“The strike on July 20, 1919 has a demonstrative, non-revolutionary character. It prepares, but does not carry out, in fact, the expropriation strike. The revolution, moreover, is imminent. A historical necessity. It will be spontaneously brought about by changing economic and political conditions. Just have a little more patience. The crowd relaxes, the nerves relax, like after a couple of glasses of grappa. The final fight is not for today, it will be for tomorrow.”

“The elections of November 16, 1919 were “red”. The Socialists received 1.834.792 votes, corresponding to 156 elected parliamentarians. A triumphant result, an omen of revolution. The failure of the fascist ticket was, conversely, total: out of about 270 voters in the electoral college of Milan, the fascists obtained only 4.657 votes. Mussolini won only 2.427 preferential votes. None of the fascist candidates were elected. None. Not even him. It was a complete fiasco.”

“Thousands of industrial strikes, workers are involved by the millions, wholesale prices have quintupled. At Fiat in Turin, at the end of March, an upheaval broke out for a matter of hours. The Council of Ministers once again extended daylight savings time, which had already been adopted during the war. The workers, for their part, decided that, from that moment on, they, and not Senator Agnelli, would be the masters of their own time. Industrialists responded with a lockout. The result was a ten-day general strike which, in Turin and its province alone, involved 120 workers. Of them, 60 occupied the factories against moving the clock forward one hour. The issue, obviously, is not one of pointers: it is not about daylight saving time, but about supreme time. The hour of revolution. The party directors, however, postponed it once more. Many of them openly condemned the “pointers strike”. As Mussolini had predicted, the electoral triumph of socialism triggered its internal crisis., accentuating the division into factions: maximalism does not want to participate in power and reformism does not dare the total conquest of power. Socialism is also at a dead end.”

“The liberal State, in order to stop the advance of the “reds”, sides with the fascists, and the latter, for the first time, will oppose a strike by the popular masses.”

For Mussolini, “the success of the socialists will crush them under the weight of their promises. They committed themselves too much in the election campaign, they shouted too much “Viva Lenin!” and now they need to move to make the revolution. In the cycle of metamorphoses, those who don't act die, and they won't act because they don't have any revolutionary capacity.”

Post-election, a daylight attack.

“A bomb is worth more than 100 rallies. (...) A man is standing on the Ponte delle Sirenette, in the center of Milan, in addition to a dagger with a mother-of-pearl handle, he carries two Thévenot bombs at his waist. Although no one is looking his way, he sticks out his chest and lifts his chin as if posing for a photographer. No one notices him, but for half an hour he has been watching the procession of socialists who, on Via San Damiano, a little further on and a little further down, are celebrating their electoral victory. On that bank of the canal, thousands of people sing, wave flags, celebrate. Men, women, children.”

The violence of socialist strikes increases but does not seem to point to an end; the violence against the socialists, whose aim is to put an end to them, is redoubled.

“Bologna is upside down. In the city, the two Chambers of Labor even competed with each other in revolutionary extremism. Even the socialist mayor Zanardi, who by choice would be a moderate, in order not to lose ground encourages the invasion of stately mansions, inviting tenants to proclaim themselves owners of the apartments. The “calloused hands” command and demand. They even deny bread to those who don't have a union card, the middle class is between a rock and a hard place, many employers would rather sell their properties than stay that way, between life and death. There is no brake. And in the city, everything is still going well. The field is lost. No village is free from the influence of the Socialist Party. In each municipality, there is a peasant union, a Casa do Povo, a cooperative, a cell. The “red” leagues own the situation. They manage to impose working conditions on rural landowners that almost completely deprive them of the right to own their land. Owners who violate the rules imposed by the leagues are subject to heavy fines in favor of the strikers' cashiers. The aversion is particularly tenacious towards tenants and smallholders. For such equals, temporary workers reserve the most merciless hatred.”

“The war for the farm deal has barely begun and has already left dozens of bodies on the ground. The massacre took place in Decima di San Giovanni in Persiceto, a small, insignificant district lost in the countryside. A rally on the settlers' pact was being held, the speaker of which was Sigismondo Campagnoli, envoy of the Chamber of Labor in Bologna. Few mentions of the agrarian question and, suddenly, the usual affronts to capitalists, priests, carabineers and, finally, the incitement of the crowd, the usual magic word: revolution.”

A careless shot by the carabinieri leads to others and kills a dozen people.

“From that moment, upon those dead, doom. The Chamber of Labor proclaims a three-day general strike across the province. For 72 hours, all public and private services are suspended, there is complete abstention from work in all categories. For the bourgeoisie, large and small, it is the proverbial last straw. Farmers, industrialists, traders, liberal professionals, civil servants and landlords decide to organize themselves. On April 8, at a meeting promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, the Bolognese Association for Social Defense was formed.”

Asks a fascist leader:

“It is true that this Bolognese bourgeoisie — and I say Bolognese in the sense of apathetic and vile — only moved when it felt, with the last strike, its own security and its own pocket threatened; but should we not, therefore, accept the money weapon so necessary to our battle that this bourgeoisie, even if out of fear, offers us at this moment?”

New socialist electoral victories followed, a significant occupation of factories for a month, which, however…

“These are the days of working-class glory, the days when everyone rises to the heights of their destiny. Production, in fact, passed into the hands of the working class. Without bank financing, supply of raw materials and guidance from technicians and engineers, turners, millers, pipe fitters or simple manual workers make the industrial process work by themselves. Robust, simple and brutish men rigorously discipline themselves: they forbid themselves the consumption of alcoholic beverages during their shifts in the workshop, institute surveillance shifts to prevent theft, scrupulously protect machinery and materials. For thirty memorable days, the working class confronts money, organization, technique, with a profusion of moral energy, a race towards superior forms of human activity. For four weeks, the workers are no longer just tired arms and backs, they are no longer living appendages of the machines. They deserve the revolution.”

“But she, once again, is not enough. The socialist leaders decided, again, to postpone it. Turin's worker leaders fear that, by taking the fight alone from the closed environments of the factories to the streets, they will be crushed. They feel the difference is huge. They are armed, but their arsenal would not withstand ten minutes of fire.”

The agreements follow:

“Giolitti manages to obtain an agreement in which Agnelli, De Benedetti and Pirelli, at the Hotel Bologna in Turin, grant the workers wage increases, regulatory improvements and even the principle of workers' control and profit sharing. The latter should remain, in Giolitti's intentions, a mere promise. In exchange, the proletarians undertake to return the factories. For the workers, it is a significant economic victory and an outright political defeat. The revolution in exchange for a plate of lentils.”

M is quiet…

“Amid all this confusion, Mussolini did not move. He stirred, he gesticulated, he paced, he wrote for and against, but he did not move. Buying time: sometimes there is nothing else to do. When the whole world crumbles around you, you stay put. “

"Let's give time to time. The rematch of the dominants will break out. For those like Agnelli, even after regaining command, the workshops remain inhabited by evil spirits. It will take a gigantic exorcism.”

The new socialist mayors begin to be challenged, true wars are announced:

““Sunday, women and children stay at home. If you want to be worthy of the country, expose the Tricolor in your windows. In the streets of Bologna, Sunday, there must be only Fascists and Bolsheviks. It will be proof. The great test on behalf of Italy.””

“In Bologna, the provincial governor and the chief of police are fully aware that it only takes a spark to light the fire. Rumors circulate about the crate of bombs that the socialists are keeping in the Palazzo d'Accursio for the inauguration party of the junta, anonymous letters are sent, negotiations take place over the symbols. The chief of police went personally to the Fascist Via Marsala headquarters to negotiate the rules of participation. After long secret meetings on both sides, an agreement worthy of an imperial protocol is reached: the fascists will not attack, on condition that the “big bell” is not sounded and the red flag is not displayed, except at the moment when that, at the end of the session, the new mayor appears in the square to thank the voters. Only then can it be tolerated as a party flag. The chief of police, meanwhile, asked the governor of the province to send another 1.200 soldiers and 800 carabineers to reinforce the 400 royal guards already available. On the morning of November 21, according to reports from Visconti, the governor of the province, 900 infantrymen, 200 on horseback, 800 carabinieri, 600 royal guards circulated in the streets of the Center. Bologna is a city in a state of siege.”

At the end of a lot of tension, the fascists manage to break the siege, the socialists mistakenly shoot their own, a deputy dies and...

“It is certain that there are ten dead and fifty wounded. The socialist military organization's credibility is destroyed, the party's reputation as well. The democratically elected Municipal Council, shaken by the arrests and the scandal, resigned en bloc. Bologna will be governed by a commissioner appointed by the provincial administration. Another season has begun.”

The success of fascist action in Bologna is repeated in other regions. In a short time, the fascists began to terrorize the serial murders of ordinary leaders and militants, to the serial burning of trade union headquarters, work centers and newspapers. They make real and psychological warfare.

“The patriotic procession parades through the streets amidst a tumult of flags in the wind and replicating bells. Along the way, people stare in amazement, hands in pockets, most with hats on their heads. It's been a long time since the motherland has shown off, and they no longer know how to behave. Fascists teach — “hats off, salute the flag” — and hand out slaps. When that's not enough, some cowboy sticks taken by the fascists also come into play for any eventuality. Meanwhile, in the square, the trams are also stopped and flags are waved, drivers who oppose are beaten, while the police watch. The drivers — all socialists — leave the service in protest. The fascists, who have become the owners of the place, then begin to drive around the city in a crazy carousel of tricolor trams. They rotate throughout the city until nightfall. They stop only when the governor of the province orders to cut the overhead power. By this time, the square, with the exception of the fascists, is deserted, but nobody sleeps in the city.”

“Triumphal violence spread along the entire Via Emilia with contagious speed: in the Rovigo region, supported by the landowners, the Fasci di Combattimento spread along the Cavarzere-Cona-Correzzola-Bovolenta axis; in Adria, the squadrons had expelled the cooperatives of temporary workers who had occupied the large farm in Oca; in Modena, they attacked municipal councillors; in Carpi, the Labor Chamber; from there, the actions penetrated by infiltration to Reggio and Mantua; in Bra, in the region of Cuneo, led by De Vecchi, the fascists chased the “red guards” with sticks until they entered the city hall offices. The effect was like an avalanche, one went from self-defence to counter-offensive; fascism flourished unstoppably in all the provinces of Italy. An air of battle hung over the fields.”

While the socialists, even though they are still a force in the executive and legislative branches, are lost – they call a general strike at the moment of articulating an anti-fascist front (which in the end they cancel), they do not self-organize in the regions (with rare exceptions), they do peace speeches (everyone put their “hands up” says a great leader in the plenary to mock M) and, worse, they divide -; the fascists are strengthening together with society.

“In the political elections of November 1919, the Socialist Party, in the province of Ferrara, obtained 43 votes: three-quarters of Ferrarenses voted in favor of the revolution. The following year, in the administrative elections of 1920, the bloc of anti-revolutionary parties obtained, throughout the province, less than 7 thousand votes. However, just one month later, on December 22nd, in Ferrara, 14 people attended the funeral of the 3 fascists killed in the clashes with the socialists in front of the Castle of Este. Power relations are inverting, the verification of powers must be updated day by day.”

“To be able to remain in the International, the Italian socialists need to change the name of the party and repudiate as counter-revolutionaries all comrades in struggle who believe in socialism but not in revolution. The problem is that in Italy, after the failure of the occupation of the factories”, few people believe her.

“In the November elections, the party achieved resounding success, winning a majority in 2.162 municipalities. Furthermore, it has 156 parliamentarians and 216 affiliates divided into 4.300 sections, the triple of 3 years before, and Avanti! exceeds the daily circulation of 300 thousand copies. Outside, the Italian proletariat is still ready for a heroic effort, but inside, in Livorno's Teatro Goldoni, discord bites. In here, it's gang warfare. (…) The controversy continued in a turbulent climate between reformists and revolutionaries, unitaries and divisionists, intransigents of the right and left, politicians and trade unionists.”

Prevents the unitfactional hatreds, slavery to formulas, ideological blindness, the language that lashes out at formal questions of pure logic, the eternal wheel of personal rivalries, deafness in relation to the rumble of the world. "

Deputy Matteotti leaves the Party Congress early, where unity is crumbling and the fascists of Ferrara are militarily organizing the first punitive expeditions or squads plus a welcome to him that…

“He refuses to use a car and goes on foot to the Labor Chamber, wrapped in a police patrol that protects him from the mob's lynching. The route turns into a via crucis with a softer tone. Spat, vegetables thrown, blows to the back of the neck and ears. The carabineers who arrived to reinforce the ranks surrounded the victim, dispersed the demonstrators, moved away and recomposed themselves. A blow goes beyond the cordon and hits Matteotti in the temple. He responds by shouting several times at the attackers: “Scumbags! Scoundrels!” . And it's just the beginning. The following day, the socialist baker Ettore Borghetti was killed with a gunshot as he left a meeting in the Chamber of Labour”.

Worse, the “punitive expedition that leaves Ferrara on January 23 towards the rural towns and villages of the region is the first conceived with military methods. The meeting is marked by dozens of men, all well armed and organized to achieve several goals at the same time. In order to destroy the peasant leagues of San Martino, Aguscello, Cona, Fossanova San Biagio, Denore and Fossanova San Marco, they rely on the determination of premeditated violence, on surprise attack techniques and on trucks made available by Agrária. Therefore, there must be many. The 'reds' are probably waiting for them, and subjugation should leave no room for uncertainty in the confrontation.”

“At the Stellata intersection, the trucks separate. Two groups are heading for Cona and Fossanova, the others for Aguscello and Denore. At the entry of Aguscello, a car owned by rural landowners from the region welcomes the fascists and escorts them through the few streets of the village. The resistance of the socialists is mild. Someone shoots a rifle used to hunt quail. The pellets barely penetrate the dense weave of the coats. The headquarters of the peasant league is easily invaded, the windows are broken, the furniture is removed and smashed in the square. Carabineros arrest socialists who defended themselves with pellet guns. "

Matteotti speech:

“But today, in Italy, there is a publicly known organization whose affiliates, leaders, headquarters, in armed bands, openly declare that they prepare acts of violence, reprisals, threats, fires, and carry them out as soon as they happen, or pretend to happen. , an action carried out by the workers that is harmful to the bosses or the bourgeois class. It is a perfect organization of private justice. That is indisputable.”

“This is the moment when the bourgeois class, which holds wealth, army, magistracy, police, leaves legality and arms itself against the proletariat to maintain its own privilege. The democratic state that is based on the principle that “the law is equal for all” is a mockery. “The seeds of violence will bear fruit; yes, they will generously bear fruit.” in which the bourgeois class, which holds wealth, army, magistracy, police, leaves legality and arms itself against the proletariat to maintain its own privilege. The democratic state that is based on the principle that “the law is equal for all” is a mockery. “The seeds of violence will bear fruit; yes, they will generously bear fruit.”

3) Means – controlling the fear of some and the violence of others.

The fascists found a party, M ran for office and was elected, and was then able to conduct cultural and media action with greater ease (which was already playing via the newspaper and via symbolic warfare in the streets), with violent social action (which was already playing via stimulus or containment of murderous fascist squads), and with palace action (of stage games, conspiracies, threats and bluffs). All these fronts are what make the improbably victorious march on rome his bridge to the post of Prime Minister.

“Mussolini's strategy is always the same: he waits, waits, waits... However, the dead man has already entered the door, the corpse of liberal democracy has been lying among the dust and mites on the couch for so long that no one notices it anymore. No, there is no dilemma, violence has no openings. Mussolini's tactic is always the same: dose, dilute, dilate and, finally, negotiate from a position of strength. And that's why we are condemned to always peek at the horizon over the tops of incinerated trees to catch sight of the fire of the next fire. The only real difference between the Duce and the members of his squads is that, for him, violence is a simple sharp tool, while for the violent it is a bloody desire for light, a thirst, an appetite; for him, the fight is a small reality of life, for them, the clash between armed groups is a myth. There is no departure.”

Everyone knows that the Blackshirts are not a well-armed, disciplined army and that:

"At the first fire, all fascism will collapse.” This is what General Badoglio allegedly said at a meeting in Rome, in the presence of bankers, journalists and even General Diaz. The phrase uttered in any salon in Rome, pestilential city par excellence, hovers like a pistol aimed at the temples of the men who gather in Milan, in secrecy, at the headquarters of the Fascio di Combattimento. (...) Among them are also four generals of the Army, and everyone knows that Badoglio is right. The only one who doesn't know seems to be Italo Balbo. On October 6, summoned by the Duce in Milan, Balbo ensured that the militarization of the squadrons proceeded efficiently. When the time came, the boys in the provinces would be ready. At the end of the conversation, contrary to his habits, Mussolini invited him with camaraderie to have something to eat at Campari. The conversation between the two in the cafe was cordial; the atmosphere, relaxed. However, Mussolini must know that Balbo's thrashing men are not soldiers, that the courage of brawls is different from that of battle, that ruthless aggression against unprepared men and flammable materials with the aim of terrorizing a hostile village is a spectacular action, but it's not war. Opposing trucks to bicycles, the offensive to passivity, the unbridled attack by motorized squadrons to the mild democratic confidence in the mass demonstrations of the socialists is exciting, but it is not war. The new regulations of the Milizia per la Sicurezza nazionale, drawn up by De Bono and De Vecchi in mid-September, imposed military discipline on squadron members, provided for hierarchy and military ranks, abolished elective commanders; but the truth, despite names and adjectives, is that there is no true military force of fascism. All the Po Valley squads have only a few thousand rifles, and no one is training squad members to use them.”

“The Fascist Duce takes the floor and explains why they are there. They are there because a state that no longer knows how to defend itself has no right to exist. If, in Italy, there was a real government, the royal guards would come through that door at that very moment, break up the meeting, occupy the headquarters and arrest them all. An organization armed with leaders and regulations is inconceivable in a State that has its army and its police.”

"Fascism spills over everywhere; now it also wants to assume the appearance of a military organization. Antifascism is no longer in a position to put up definitive resistance; it will suffice to watch a few isolated areas and a few men. Carabineers and royal guards, even more so in the provinces, are evidently with us. The top echelon of the Army supports us because they feel that we are the Italy that came out of the trenches; at the very least, it will remain passive. The Facta government is not going to shoot us. Monarchists were reassured by my speech in Udine, and in Naples I will be even more explicit. The parliamentary classes, after the failure of all their maneuvers, think only of making an agreement with us. They are nothing more than a handful of voluptuous suicides... Industrialists, bourgeois, landowners, they all want to take us into government. Even liberals like Albertini now maintain that this is the priority, whatever the cost.”

"No, the ones that worry me the most are the fascists [says M]. Like human material, for a large-scale action, they are cheap material. Personal fiefdoms, regional oligarchies, small parochialisms… It will be necessary to tame them... "

"The liberal newspapers placed before the fascist attack are there as proof of this: they stutter, sympathize, then withdraw, pedantic, intricate, trembling prose.. prose of backward democracy, devoid of ideas, of will, that looks around with fear, accumulates in its writings one caveat after another, translating from English, a language that is not their own, which, in turn, echoes ancient Greek, a foreign past. Italy does not know what democracy is. Nor Russia, but there, at least, to account for ignorance, they gave the world communism.”

Meanwhile, the socialists remain at a loss…

“The Russian Bolsheviks are pressing for fusion in order to be able to oppose fascism in a compact front of the entire proletariat, but Bordiga resists. From his point of view, democracy is already fascism, the capitalist counterrevolution has already won, what difference could it make if fascists came to power?"

“When the delegation of the Italian Communists — defeated by the Fascists, separated from the Socialists and also internally divided — arrives in Russia at the end of October, Communism there is at the height of its triumph. Leon Trotsky, whom Bordiga pays no attention to, who before the revolution was a man of letters nicknamed "Pity", got up from his desk and, in a few months, organized the Red Army - the greatest people's army in history, millions of people. armed workers and peasants, a new conception of the war of movement on a planetary scale —, at the head of which, in four years of bloody civil war, he crushed, on two continents and dozens of fronts, all the enemies of the revolution. The Communists of the East, after dispelling internal and external enemies, are on the verge of founding the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and ushering in a new era in world history. The Communists of the West, for their part, registering one defeat after another, retreat on all fronts. Within the Comintern, the international of all communist parties in the world, the absolute hegemony of Russian comrades is being outlined. The others, with Bordiga as their leader, in whatever den they will hide, can only defend as best they can the conquest of the Russians from the depths of their own defeat.”

“Bordiga, obediently, exposes the facts, repeats analyzes and opinions already expressed. Suddenly, the big man stops him and asks what the workers and peasants think of these events. Bordiga, the leader of the Italian Communists, is paralyzed, like a student taken aback by an unexpected question. Meanwhile, in Italy, tens of thousands of blackshirts are chanting “To Rome! To Rome!” at Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples; in Milan, the main leaders of the Socialist Party, agreeing not to take that resolution seriously and considering that threat unrealistic, accompanied by the absolute certainty that nothing important is happening, take the train to Moscow.”

M orchestrates the fascist threat (stimulates and secures it) so that he emerges as the only one capable of pacifying the country.

“Through the wretched alleys, a wave of incitement rises: “Rome! Pomegranate!" The men at the police stations mark the time of that late afternoon by articulating the two syllables without interruption. Mussolini then says: “Blackshirts of Naples and all of Italy, today, without striking a single blow, we conquer the vibrant soul of Naples, the burning soul of all of Southern Italy. The demonstration has no other purpose and cannot be transmuted into battle, but I say with all the solemnity that the moment demands: either they will give us the government or we will take it by going to Rome! At that point, it's a matter of days or maybe hours.” The short speech ends with an invitation for the crowd to cheer the Army under the windows of the military command. From the square, shouts of “Viva o fascism! Long live the Army! Long live Italy! Long live the king!".

Fascists, while threatening to march on Rome, carried out numerous violent actions (fires and deaths) and occupied provincial government headquarters and various public buildings.

“For hours, he observes in silence, in the darkness of the night, the blinking of the lights of the telephones that connect the headquarters of the provincial governments to the ministry. For hours, (...) he observes the accumulation of phonograms and urgent dispatches on the tables and writes down the names of the occupied provincial governments, the invaded telegraph agencies, the military contingents that fraternized with the fascists, the requisitioned trains that leave loaded with weapons towards the capital . The grandiose spectacle of the dismantling of a state lasts until dawn.”

“The secret quadrunvirate of action declares the current government deposed, dissolves the Chamber and closes the Senate. The Army must remain in barracks. You must not participate in the fight.” Mussolini knows very well, and the news from Cremona is proof that, if the army is involved, there will be no fight.”

“The journalist of great value, omitting the massacre of Cremona, tells his collaborators the headline of what may be the last edition of his newspaper: “The history of Italy takes a decisive turn — The mobilization of the fascists has already taken place in Tuscany — All barracks in Siena occupied by the fascists — The military green fraternizes with the blackshirts.” Then, the fascist censor summons Cesare Rossi and orders him to make a tour of the Milanese newsrooms with Aldo Finzi to impose an allied press.”

“Giovanni Amendola, Minister for the Colonies, beaten by the fascists on Christmas Eve, founder of the Italian Democratic Party and of the liberal newspaper Il Mondo, whose Neapolitan headquarters was burned down by the police, finally has a significant moment of rare happiness. “The fascists will not pass: we decided to order the state of siege and, tomorrow, these scoundrels will be put in their place”, exults the sincere democrat when the decree is released.”

“Gentlemen, I advise you to reflect on the character of our movement. There's nothing you don't approve of,” he says and bluffs. “In any case, your resistance would be futile: all of Italy, even Rome, fell into our hands. Inform yourselves.” Words – again, words – prevail over reality, keeping this one on the sidelines. Small causes, big effects. Commissioner Perna agrees, the major hesitates. The bloodshed is postponed.”

“The founder of fascism won, the threat of the state of siege having been overcome, all that remains is that of the fascist squadrons that are massing at the gates of Rome (…) At 19 pm, he receives, for the second time in two days, a delegation of industrialists: From Capitani D'Arzago, Pirelli, Benni, Crespi, Ettore Conti, who have already learned the way. "

“They arrive, and everyone prostrates, bruised, for a convulsive wait. There is no drinking water, no provision of food, no money. Above all, there are no orders. It is only known that Balbo drove by on a motorcycle to order them not to move so as not to compromise the political game. Then nothing else, for hours, for days. No action, no communication, no news, no instructions other than the one that imposes all the prohibitions: not to leave your own cantonments for any reason, not to cause damage, not to fire shots, not to steal poultry from the peasants.”

"It must be recognized that the divisions of others helped us a lot... Oh! All those candidates for government: Bonomi, De Nicola, Orlando, Giolitti, De Nava, Fera, Meda, Nitti… It sounded like the desperate call of the agonized kingpins of parliamentarism.” (…) “Of course, if Giolitti had been in government, things would not have gone so well… In our regions, there would have been strong resistance, but, in fact, we would not have succeeded. When a State wants to, it can always defend itselfr; then the state wins. The truth is that the State in Italy no longer existed…”

“At 11:05 am on October 30, 1922, as I was climbing the stairs of the Quirinal to receive from the King of Italy the charge of governing it, Benito Mussolini, of commoner origin, political nomad, self-taught in power, was, at just 39 years old, the youngest Prime Minister of his country, youngest of the rulers of all the world at the time of accession; without any experience of government or public administration, he had entered the Chamber of Deputies just 16 months earlier and was wearing the black shirt, the uniform of an unprecedented armed party in history."

“The next day, it was inevitable to let them into the city. There was nothing else to do. The king himself, now that Benito Mussolini had got what he wanted, asked him to send them back, preserving the capital. But Mussolini retorted that if he didn't give them the satisfaction of parading, he couldn't answer for their reaction: "

“An aura of heroism and violence was indispensable. It served, in that new century, to consecrate the power of his favorite son. The military insurrection would have failed, of course, but the comedy had come true, and the knife had to be kept pointed at the throat.. "

“Exhausted by the exhaustion that followed the nervous tension, chased away like dogs from a church, after having covered so many kilometers through the streets of the capital while being acclaimed for the cowardice of the Romans – who, having overcome their fear, waved on the sides of the streets -, the participants of the fascist squadrons, the carnal protagonists of a ghost story, without even realizing it, found themselves once again inside trains, munching the gastric juices of their victory.”

4) In power

“The plenary is packed. The seat of the Italian Parliament has a “fantastic look” that not even the oldest reporters — observes L'illustrazione Italiana — can remember seeing before in thirty years working there. The tribunes of senators, diplomats, ex-deputies overflow with elegant gentlemen and ladies in fur coats, the public tribunes are crowded with spectators, the side aisles have been clogged with ordinary people who have rushed to greet the new government.”

“The public tribunes join the ovation. Italy, from whatever point of view, is on its honeymoon with this man, who enters Parliament with a triumphal step, so high above the ground that, even walking, he seems to be entering on horseback.”

"The first to glimpse a promise of peace in the Fascist Duce are, paradoxically, the liberals. Benedetto Croce continues to applaud, Giolitti hopes that Mussolini will pull the country "out of the pit in which it was going to rot", Nitti promises "no opposition", Salvemini urges him to eliminate these "old mummies and scoundrels" from the deteriorating political class, even Amendola, whose newspaper the members of the squadrons burned, awaits the Duce to restore legality. In his government, in addition to the fascists, the popular, nationalists, democrats and liberals entered. The famous European philosopher Giovanni Gentile accepted the invitation to the Ministry of Education, General Armando Diaz and Admiral Paolo Thaon de Revel, winners of the world conflict, stayed with the Ministries of War and Navy. Italy can no longer bear to play the same games, listen to the voices from the corridors, the wasted sighs, the bloodless and inconclusive palace plots, people are fed up with seeing their defects represented in Parliament.”

Speech:

"What has happened is that the Italian people, at their best, have dismantled a ministry and given themselves a government that is outside, above and against any designation of Parliament... I affirm that the revolution has its rights. I am here to defend and maximize the blackshirt revolution.”

““With three hundred thousand youths impeccably armed, ready for anything and waiting almost mystically for my order, I could punish all those who slandered and tried to throw fascism into the mud. I could make this deaf and gray plenum a cramped camp.”

“While the members of the squadrons exalt themselves in the tribunes, the impression aroused by Mussolini's outrage is, for all non-fascists, painful, profound. However, only Francesco Saverio Nitti, indignant, left the plenary in silence, only Modigliani and Matteotti suddenly rose to their feet in the Socialists' bench. A single cry—“Long live Parliament!” — rises across the humiliated Parliament. The others, almost all of them, seem to feel they deserve humiliation. His silence is an act of servile contrition. When Mussolini speaks again, he addresses an assembly of culprits: “I could shut down parliament and form a fascist-only government. "

“The Chamber of Deputies, although the National Fascist Party has only 35 deputies, votes in favor of full confidence in the Mussolini government, the same government that demoralized it. There are 306 votes in favor, 116 against and 7 abstentions. It will also grant him full powers. Even the critics, the outraged, like Gasparotto and Albertini, voted in favour. An adamant desire for capitulation.”

“Here they are, all lined up, not one is missing. Great economists, great philosophers, the winning generals of the world war. All members of his government came in procession to wish the Prime Minister a Happy New Year, the young, formidable statesman whom American newspapers hail as “the most interesting and powerful man in Italy”. Everyone now looks forward to paying their own respects to the adventure. The fascist coup d'état was carried out and the world did not end. "

"Let the enemies not deceive themselves: the fascist state does not tolerate them; he fights them and destroys them. This is its main feature. And the Fascist State cannot remain for long at the mercy of Parliament — a Parliament that will have to be daily humiliated, publicly despised — because Fascism already represents Italy. Whoever is outside fascism is either an enemy or dead.”

But, there are problems...

“Those who should be your most grateful and trusted collaborators. Watch those dissatisfied, those disillusioned, those unsubmissive. They are the main obstacle to Mussolinian speed, the iron ball at the foot of the second moment of this revolution. And they are all fascists.”

“For the most part, they are mediocre, avid, petty men, raised to their positions by the upward current raised in the sky of Italy by Cyclone Mussolini and appointed directly by him, the Supreme Leader. But instead of gratitude, the polished mirrors of the Grand Hotel reflect the slanted, frowning, funereal glances of discontent.”

“As always, your maneuver is twofold, all-encompassing. Members of the squadrons, after having raised him to power, back in hometowns where they refuse to disarm, are becoming a crucial problem. They must then be taken away from the local chiefs, who might use them against him. On the other hand, he still needs to use them to keep pressure on Parliament and the monarchy. The veiled threat of civil war remains the main guarantee of his power.”

“Mussolini made his choice: he returned to the hard game, to the action of force. This is what he wrote in all letters in the March issue of Gerarchia: in this new century, of which he is the son, strength and consensus are one and the same. Freedom is a means, not an end. As a means, it must be controlled. To control it, it takes strength. "

In the new electionswhile the political genius of the Duce forces almost everyone to join a single fascist list, the opposition will present 21 lists. Not even the most similar formations managed to form a bloc. Moral: so many oppositions, no opposition. "

""This is the last time elections will be called. Next time I will vote for everyone.""

M orders the deputy Matteotti to be silent, which will make his government tremble for the first time. He cuts to the bone by delivering the warrants to the crime himself. Fascists pressure you to defend your members as your methods. Political forces want to get rid of him, but he turns around..

“The country's turmoil turns into a nightmare. Italy screams in its sleep, oppressed by specters that stifle any sense of liberation, as in a bad dream. During these weeks, even the existence of Benito Mussolini — he, who is a combination between his body and the iron matter from which, as they say, he would be forged — becomes a specter. “There are two dead”, writes the journalist Ugo Ojetti, “Matteotti and Mussolini. ””

""The government has only one concern: not to end. A single fear: the sanctions of justice. A sense of uncertainty and disquiet spreads across the country with no possibility of being stopped or remedied.”

“The liberal newspapers call for Mussolini's resignation, the socialists ask for his head, the fascists of the extremist cartel openly threaten him. In the first edition of the new year, Farinacci declares in his Cremona Nuova that the truncheon, for the time being kept in the attic, “must be dusted and left at hand”. In his La Conquista dello Stato, Curzio Malaparte, a participant in the second echelon of the squadrons, dares to warn him: “Whoever is not with us is against us”; the fascist motto par excellence also applies to the one who coined it, to Benito Mussolini in person, claims Malaparte.”

But M gets a comeback

“Thanks to a simple reform of the electoral system, Mussolini is back in the game. The liberal right, until yesterday ready to jettison him, is coming closer, attracted by the prospect of re-election. Threatened by the risk of not being re-elected, the moderate fascists, until yesterday seduced by the party's current of opposition, are rushing to realign themselves. The swamp thus closes in on the slime itself.”

“More than a vote for or against the fascist regime, the upcoming elections are announced as a plebiscite for or against it. A year after the march on Rome, fascism weakened, but he, Benito Mussolini, on the contrary, grew stronger. He looms large.”

He managed to “sign an agreement with Yugoslavia that returns Fiume to Italy, closing a wound that had been bleeding since 1919. could succeed in such an arduous task.' Thus, the dispute that had kept open the planetary wounds of the First World War for years was closed, and it was he, Benito Mussolini, who ended it with a deft diplomatic move, not with the presumptuous adventure of a poet.

“Benito Mussolini is the conqueror who, if he goes to London on a state visit, is welcomed at Victoria station by a delirious crowd; he is the thinker whom Giuseppe Ungaretti, at the same time, asks to write the preface to his poetic masterpiece O porto sepulto; he is the charismatic leader that industrialists, experienced politicians, bishops and militants wait for hours, trepidating, to meet in the antechamber of his office in the Sala das Vitórias”.

“With the malevolent legends of internal opponents [fascists] demystified, he moves on to the strategy for the next political elections: fascism makes no alliance with any party. However, it agrees to include in the lists men from all parties or from any party, as long as they are useful to the nation. The strategy is clear: dehydrate the other parties and transfer their members to the National Fascist Party. "

"Fascism will triumph in elections following “the legalist path”. But it is also necessary to put an end to the opposition's complaints about trampled freedoms: “The fascist revolution did not come with sacrifices of human lives; has not yet created special courts; there were no bursts of firing squads; he did not exercise terror; exception laws have not been enacted.”

“Despite public proclamations regarding the “legalist way”, on January 10, he, Giunta, Marinelli and De Bono gathered at Mussolini's house in Via Rasella, managed by Cesira Carocci, and there, after playing for a while with the little lion, decided to build a secret organism that depended directly on them to target the enemies of fascism. The Duce considers it indispensable: in this transitional phase, in which the laws still feel the effects of the liberal spirit, it is not possible to do it with legal means. The gap must be filled.”

At the end, the speech in which he alludes to the crimes he is accused of with the same ambiguity and bluff that affirm his strength and highlight the weakness of the enemy.

““Article 47 of the Statute says: 'The Chamber of Deputies has the right to impeach the king's ministers and to refer them to the High Court of Justice.' I ask formally: in this Chamber, or outside this Chamber, is there anyone who wants to take advantage of Article 47?” It's an exhibition. Benito Mussolini holds up the book of democratic rules before parliamentarians like a priest showing the faithful the particle of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. (...) Silence. Only one. It only takes one to speak and he is lost..” Nobody get up.

""Well then, gentlemen, I declare here, before this assembly and before the entire Italian people, that I assume, alone, the political, moral and historical responsibility for everything that has happened. Se the more or less distorted phrases are enough to hang a man, take the rod and take the rope! Se fascism was just castor oil and a truncheon, not a superb passion of the best Italian youth, it's my fault! Se fascism was a criminal organization, I am the head of this criminal organization!”

“In the end, one returns to the beginning. Nobody wanted to put the cross of power on their shoulders. I take it myself.”

*Gláucia Campregher Professor of Economics at UFRGS

 

 

 

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