Italy on the wheel

Anti-fascist flyer. Torino, January 2018.

Anti-fascist flyer. Torino, January 2018.

Italy has achieved, under Fascism, as its dearest enemies must concede, an industrial expansion which is a miracle to those who knew her five years ago. But Communist Russia is as far backward as ever. Fascism has restored Italy’s prestige in the markets, the cafes, the chancelleries of Europe and the world.

Russia’s credit was never so low, as at the present day. And yet despite such feverish activity, the Italian Lira is as low as ever.

Now, we ask, what use is industrial expansion when its main index in the counting-houses of the world, the watered lira, is no better than the Russian Chervonets ? That is a cry of despair. It leads to others: What use is the sacrifice of the individual to the state be that state industrialised or mercantile or militarist or communist, or fascist? And going down to bed-rock, does the state exist for the citizen, or the citizen for the state?

These are problems awaiting solution not today, but for all time. But what is to happen to parliamentary institutions and their fine spirit of democracy while the clash of world forces is evolving a solution to those problems?

Time alone can, and will, answer. Meanwhile, the conclusion must be drawn that in Communist Russia democracy is a spectre. In Fascist Italy, democracy is on the wheel.

Italy is a complex of queer conundrums. Here are a few agitating the public mind and conscience in Italy :

1. When is an Italian no Italian?

2. Shall the state exist for the individual or the individual for the state?

3. Is an Italian living in foreign lands a foreigner?

4. Is the foreigner preaching universal brotherhood on Italian soil an anarchist? Shall he be locked up or kicked out?

5. Shall opposition be crushed down by force, or assimilated into Fascism by gentleness?

6. Which is better — universal brotherhood or Fascist fraternity? And finally:

7. Shall the Fascist state exist for the Fascist citizen only?

The Fascists claim to answer all these conundrums in deeds, not words, by converting Italy into an out-and-out Fascist state. When every citizen, every civil servant, every workman, every peasant, is a Fascist, then there will be no opposition, no internationalists, no liberals, nothing but unalloyed Fascism.

Fascism has great expectations from the Italian citizen, but give the devil his due. Fascism has conferred, on the Italian citizen certain advantages which show up by contrast with other countries in Europe.

Firstly, freedom from industrial troubles is a positive gain. This freedom has been acquired at a price, it must be admitted, but how far it is a genuine gain will appear if the relative economic chaos in England and France is taken into consideration.

In England, the big public services threaten to strangle the very life of the nation, merely out of sympathy or solidarity with any subaltern class of workers who may choose to exploit their masters’ difficulties, and convert a necessity for a cut in wages for a call for all brother proletarians to “Down Tools Everywhere !” That is the solidarity of labour and if it is to be upheld with full logic and on every occasion, labour will be left without a single, full, working-day in its calendar, and cease to be labour at all! What will it be then?

So far as past experience shows and present tendencies go, labour will be, wholly or partially, put on the dole, and the taxpayer will be paying labour for not doing its duty to him! We have called England a “land of sour paradoxes”.  That is one of the sourest.

And France is not behind England in economic indiscipline. An essential government service indulges in a one-hour strike or sabotage in the busiest hours of a Monday morning, and all ramifications of public and private activity from the wars in Syria and Morocco to quotations on the Bourse pay the price of a few civil servants’ levity in their own loss or suffering or worse. And these few government servants who throw the working of a big government service out of gear have not been traced to this day. Indiscipline could no further go.

Again, worsted in parliament, a political party throws the whole country into the convulsions of a general 24 hours’ general strike of protest against one thing or another. It may be for 24 hours today and for 24 days tomorrow. Success or failure is a minor point. The fearsome aspect of the situation is the certainty of an economic stranglehold which may be applied at any time. That certainty alone will be sufficient to stagger credit at home and to shatter credit abroad, and the paper franc will go hurtling through tens and hundreds into the limbo of the paper rouble, crown and mark.

Fascist Italy has been spared economic chaos, and that is the first positive gain.

Equally noteworthy is the strengthening of the political situation. The Fascist may be right or wrong. There may be as little stuff in his moonshine theories as in communist miasmas, but the Fascist is a man of flesh and blood, inspired by a principle and acting up to that principle. Such a one is preferable to the chamberfuls of jellyfishes and limpets who pullulate elsewhere. Europe minus Italy is a nightscape politically.

Indecision, leading to loss of principle and breach of faith has been the ruin of conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, socialism. It is easy to be strong in opposition; it is difficult to be strong in power. The path of democracy is strewn with broken principles and bleeding hearts. Of all political parties in Europe, the Fascists alone are stronger in power than in opposition. They do not pay lip-service to democracy. They do not even recognise that term.

The Fascists have acquired a giant’s strength, and they use it like a giant, tyrannously. Their justification is their predecessors’ failure; their excuse, their predecessors’ misdeeds; their final triumph, their predecessors’ complete undoing.

A third boon which Fascism claims to be conferring on Italy is a healthier public administration. We are asked to admit at the outset that there cannot exist such a monster on earth as an unpolitical public servant. Such a one, if at all unpolitical, is a prey to all political parties, a focus of intolerable intrigue. He is a child of caprice in his weaker moments and a slave of passion in his stronger. If weak, he is misery to himself; if strong, an irritant to the public. And in either case, he is a danger to public, self and state

The Fascists are making the condition of entry into public service. Fascism. Obviously, a Fascist state must have Fascist servants. This makes discipline good. For, it is easier to deal with a troop of trained soldiers than with a mob of heterogenous opinion-holders. As a penalty for indiscipline in his charge, the Fascist prefect of Florence had to go, regardless of a blameless record and consternation in the land. Discipline is discipline and must be the same for all Bumbledom from Zabem to Shanghai.

A step in the same direction is to replace amorphous local councils with governors and podestas, on the assumption that the whole country is going Fascist.

Fascism, so constituted, so interpreted, so administered, cannot last forever. It cannot even last for a day. For the day the entire country turns Fascist, there will be no further Fascism left in the land. Fascism will then have become the lowest common denominator for all,  jumping-off place for newer and better and higher things.

Fascism carries within itself the germs of its own decay. Tyranny in little homeopathic doses may put it off; tyranny in wrong doses may accelerate it. But the twentieth century is not prepared to accept undiluted tyranny for long. The plain average citizen is no less a bourgeois in Italy than elsewhere.

Fascist swashbucklers may amuse him today, annoy him tomorrow, but he will not stand perpetual subjection to Fascist ideals. Ideals are like leaven, you cannot live on them exclusively. The militarist cannot live all his life in jackboots, nor the worker in his claybox of a factory on clammy margarine and pumped air; still less can the Fascist live continuously on a bundle of twigs.

Life, to be worth living while you have it, must be easy, simple, natural. That holds everywhere, and still more forcibly in Italy where life is art, which cannot be disciplined or dragooned or doped for the benefit of any state.

There is a future for democracy in Italy, in the hearts of men, even if today democracy is on the wheel.

Adapted from When Parliaments Fail (1927) by The Sympathiser. Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit.. Published under a Creative Commons license.