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WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 1927
ITALY – BEFORE AND AFTER
By Kennedy Allen
The Universal War, which overthrew three historic dynasties and laid to ruins three powerful empires, gave, rise, in the years that followed it, to two main tendencies in government. The democratic system, based upon the predominance of Parliament – that evolution of the political genius of Englishmen which, ever since Voltaire's visit, had been regarded by Continental patriots as the most desirable of all forms of polity – was challenged, first in Russia and later in Italy . Each of those countries became subject to a virtual dictatorship imposed by an aggressive minority. Bolshevism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and Fascism, the dictatorship of outraged nationalism, stand as far asunder as the poles, but they have this in common; they are both undemocratic.
What is Fascism? Its cardinal doctrine is expressed in the formula “Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” To the State the individual is subordinate. It is thus the antithesis of the liberalism which, with a strongly marked individualism, played so important a part in England between the Revolution of 1688 and the outbreak of the European conflagration in 1914.
On the whole, the parliamentary system proved a disappointing experiment in Italy . It reposed indeed upon a conception utterly alien to all her traditions. The political disunion that followed the irruptions of the barbarians and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire continued during more than 15 centuries. It was not until a time within the memory of men still living, namely the year 1870, that modern Rome became the capital of a unified peninsula. Ancient Rome, notwithstanding her many triumphs in the arts of peace, never developed representatives institutions; the so-called republics of the middle ages afforded no popular education in politics, without which democracy is a mere name; and ages of servitude endured by North and South under foreign oppression, Austrian and Spaniard, further handicapped the functioning of an exotic political device.
With the close of the war the system, in fact, broke down. Ignoble intrigues yielded a crop of unstable ministries, and in the fullness of time Authority became powerless. The climax arrived in the month of August, 1920, when in various towns throughout the industrial North, that is to say Piedmont and Lombardy, bands of workmen entered into occupation of the factories and attempted to exploit them in their own interests. The feeble handling of the situation by the then premier, Signor Giolitti, a liberal, helped to accentuate the disgust of patriotic Italians at the national humiliation from which her diplomatic representatives had been unable to save her at the peace conference of Versailles.
The condition of the country was indeed deplorable. Government was yielding place to anarchy. Strikes, riots, armed conflicts, theft, murder, together with the appalling irregularity in the public services, especially in the railway department and in the post office, marked the new dispensation. The public credit declined accordingly.
Mean while some of the patriotic elements had found a local habitation and a name. In 1919 Mussolini established a returned soldier's union (fascio) at Milan ; it consisted of some 150 personal friends. Branches sprang up here and there. At the parliamentary elections held two years later the founder was elected with 37 followers. The movement, the original objects of which were to obtain fair treatment for ex-service men and to uphold the national dignity, grew steadily throughout the period of anarchy and attracted many outsiders. Eventually, in October, 1922, some 60,000 Fascisti marched on Rome . The Liberal premier, Signor Faeta, after unsuccessfully advising the King to sign a decree proclaiming martial law – a course that would have involved the country in civil war – tendered his resignation. Eventually the King invited Mussolini to form a ministry, which he did in the incredibly short space of seven hours. In the following year the electoral law was amended: the party whose ticket secured a majority of voters was to have two-thirds of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
This is the year V. of Fascism, which appears to have begun a new era in Italian history. Strikes have been abolished, trains run to time, mails are punctually delivered. Discipline and public order prevail everywhere.
Last year, while the general strike was raging in England , and also while the coal strike dragged on for seven months, different Italians remarked to me, with a smile of superiority, that such crises were impossible in Italy . Industrial peace has afforded the country an opportunity of unparalleled development, especially in the manufacture of textiles and the construction of ships; the merchant marine is constantly expending. The Government claims that it holds the scales evenly between capital and labour.
The weak side of Fascism is its attitude to the press. Criticism of the Government is not permitted; suppression would inevitably be the lot of any newspaper that dared to print an unfavourable word. Without an untrammelled press public opinion has little chance of expressing itself. But even public meetings, except those favourable to the government, are, as far as I was able to observe in the course of a visit of 10 months, equally forbidden. The very idea of criticism is repellent to the authorities. The walls of cafes and eating-houses exhibit requests not to talk politics. In Rimini I noticed a card in a bar bearing the Italian equivalent of “Blasphemy and political discussion forbidden.”
Even the Chamber of Deputies does very little more than register the wishes of the head of the Government. Why, says Fascism, should the Chamber be more powerful than the Senate, the Executive and the Crown? In the answer to that question resides the whole difference between the English parliamentary system and this Latin modification of it. If Thomas Carlyle, who spent most of his life denouncing democracy, could return to the living for a while, he would probably console himself with the reflection that his teaching was not in vain. We can imagine him adding a chapter to his “Heroes and Hero-worship,” with Mussolini for his hero.
Concerning this remarkable man, Australia 's opinion of whom many Italians sought from me last year, I propose to say something in another article.
Next article - Fascism - Its founder - Some of its methods