Antonio Graziadei (1873-1953) was an Italian economist and politician. He adhered to the Italian Workers Party, later renamed the Italian Socialist Party, shortly after its formation in 1892. In 1910 he became member of parliament which he would remain until 1926 when it was dissolved by Mussolini. At the 17th congress of the Italian Socialist Party in 1921 he was one of the founding members of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). In 1923-24 he was a member of the Central Committee of the PCI. His theoretical work on Marxism was not seen positively under Stalin’s rule, and in 1924 Zinoviev called him ‘enemy of the people’ for daring to criticize aspects of Marx’s labor theory of value in his latest book on economics. In 1929 he was expelled from the PCI for ‘thought crime’, only to be later reintegrated into the party in 1945.
For British readers it may be interesting to know that Antonio Gramsci, who shared a room with Graziadei at the Hotel Lux in Moscow during the 4th Congress of the Comintern in 1922-23, once wrote that for Graziadei the model that the party should follow was Britain’s Labour Party.
This below is the ending of Graziadei’s memoirs, relating to the time of Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy. In a time in which the accusation of fascism is being widely used in a number of contexts and countries, it may be useful to remind ourselves what the birth of fascism in Italy was actually like from someone who was there at the time, and documented its every step of gaining power, and, most importantly, the reasons behind it:
Fascism arose and expanded itself, but neither the socialists nor the Popolari knew how to recognize in time its true character. Only in this way they could persist in comfortable habits which were in absolute contrast with the necessities of the new situation.
The view was held that fascism was due to transitory excitements and destined to dissipate itself. When it gained power it was said that economic difficulties would have liquidated it in a short period of time. It was not understood, or worse people did not want to understand, that a movement which arose by the barrel of a gun could only be won with the barrel of a gun.
As a final analysis, until class contrasts are not too pronounced, the ruling class can govern also through a formally democratic regime. But when the shock becomes too big, the situation cannot resolve itself from the side of the ruling class without the use of force: of the regular army, if enough; of voluntary class militias, if necessary.
Socialists couldn’t understand fascism because, illuded and ensnared by the Giolittian period, they considered the democracy of the ruling classes as a stable and eternal fact, instead of a condition subordinated to exceptionally happy circumstances. Blinded by a puerile pacifism and persuaded by the “unproductiveness” of military expenses, the same way they had not believed in a foreign war, they could not believe in the reality of an internal war.
Yet history – this perennially misunderstood teacher – is full of substantially fascist actions. From the “Lives” of Plutarch – a recommended book for the education of the young – it is clearly evident that Tiberius and Caius Gracchus were killed by armed squads under the guidance of the Senate. Robespierre was eliminated by squads armed by men from the Directory, etc. But without going too far back in time, during and after the First World War 1914-18, fascism, before emerging in Italy, had already carried it out ruthless trial runs in Finland, in Bavaria, in Hungary etc.
Naturally, despite the fundamentally identical means and ends, the fascism of every historic period and of every country also has its peculiar characteristics. The colour and events of italian fascism have a name: Benito Mussolini.
In talking about Mussolini I will leave aside any resentments, even if legitimate. He was the tool of historical laws, in front of which any personal events lose any importance.
Due to the difference in age and of residence, I talked with Mussolini only once when he was still registered in the Socialist Party. It was at a conference of socialists from Romagna.. Supported by the vast majority of those present, he defended his ideas, which were essentially insurrectionist. I instead defended Marxist theories, trying to demonstrate that his revolutionism had nothing to do with the principles of a socialism understood the modern way. Despite the unbridgeable dispute, he demonstrated towards me a deference that I did not expect.
The frenetic applauses that cheered him every moment were not meant for his arguments; they went towards the paradoxical phrases, they went to the voice now high pitched, now cavernous, they went to the disproportionate and rotating eyes. He kept the same attitude even when he became fascist, and with it he enamoured the crowds that followed him.
Mussolini was never a socialist in the modern sense of the word. The fact that some believed he was is not a good testament to the political maturity of those who made such a grave mistake. He was instead the exponent of that pseudo-revolutionary ideology that was part of the Romagna of bygone days, and through which, for example, the most narrow-minded conservatives could mask themselves as republicans.
Family examples also contributed to the formation of his mentality. Mussolini’s father had participated to the first Bakunian International, and as such had conserved and kept conserving the tendencies that had produced the insurrectionist movements in the fields of Caprara (Bologna) and Benevento. He imposed the name of Benito to his son as homage to Benito Juarez, who in Mexico was responsible for the firing squad execution of the emperor Maximilian. In that name was an entire program, and that program was followed through with commitment..
In substance, to succeed in politics two gifts are necessary: the capacity to light up the passions, and the ability to organize the passionate. The masses, of every colour, do not move only due to reason, but also due to the impulses of feelings. Without a certain character of religiosity even secular motions end up lacking the required cement. On the other side a firm political organization is necessary to carry a movement, and to prevent it from dissipating.
Mussolini had an inexhaustible fantasy in thinking up all the most appropriate ways of impressing those with bad taste: which is not little. In the occasion of the “march” on Rome, he comfortably left Milan in the sleeping car of a train, invited by the King. But once in Rome station he presented himself to his followers in a warrior’s uniform. In the oleographs which accompanied the “march” in millions of copies, Mussolini is the head of the triumvirate, and he has the coruscating attitude of a general who has conducted his armies against a frighteningly armed enemy..
Achieving success in defending the rich is certainly easier than in supporting the poor. But even in the first case certain qualities need to be demonstrated. Mussolini was able to use everyone and everything to back his fascism, or his anti-socialist incarnation. Mussolini knew how to use everything and everyone. He accepted national and foreign money to prepare the “Popolo d’Italia” against the “Avanti!”, when he was still the Director of the latter; he imposed to his financiers and therefore to the big industrialists and owners huge rewards; he obtained the backing of masons and priests, moderates and of the “radicals”, of the aristocracy and of the slums; he aligned in the same row the misguided yet proper intellectual and the lowlifes. He made a national hero out of every thug who killed a worker or a “red” farmer.
But what he was particularly able at was in using old interventionists who desired to avenge the post-war offenses. The vast majority of them was composed by demobilized officers, who adapted badly in taking over modest roles in times of peace. With fascism they found roles which were vastly superior and more profitable than those they had in the regular army..
As with all the biggest egocentrics, Mussolini, between many opposed ideologies, which he used without ever letting them dominate him, had only one coherence: the one given by his temperament. He was always an anti-pacifist, a lover of the coup, a leader of protecting groups. Since he was in Forlí, he loved roaming the streets with a guard of acolytes always ready to defend him against eventual “republican” attacks. The only author which he followed closely was Sorel, exactly because the French writer had created an apologia of violence.
If he had lived in normal times, Mussolini would have been considered simply a jumpy individual; which in fact happened to him when in the first period of his life he held teaching jobs outside Romagna. But in a situation of high national and international tension, he found himself in his element and was able to emerge due to both his qualities and faults.
With the arrival of fascism a new sad period opened up for our country. And it is at the threshold of this period that I will need to stop.
Deprived of my University teaching and of my political mandate; watched by the police with a severity that was increased due to my internment swap; prohibited from any external activity; struck in the last years by a long and serious illness, I passed most of the fascist era in almost complete isolation. My only comfort was – before the illness – study, which allowed me to publish a number of works on theoretical and Marxist economics.
Having come to the end of my toil, I would not be able to take leave without expressing the deep gratitude towards all those who after the Liberation came towards me with the old trust and affection. They lightened the burden I carried for a long time and almost made me re-live the lost happy years.
Graziadei, A. (1950) Memorie di Trent’Anni. Roma: Edizioni Rinascita.
Gramsci, A. (2011) Prison Notebooks (European Perspectives) Edited by Joseph A. Buttigieg. New York: Columbia University Press.
Gramsci, A Jr. (2014) La storia di una famiglia rivoluzionaria. Antonio Gramsci e gli Schucht tra la Russia e l’Italia. Roma: Editori Riuniti.
Graziadei, A. (1950) Memorie di Trent’Anni. Roma: Edizioni Rinascita.
Pearmain, A. (2015) Gramsci in Love. Alresford, Hants: Top Hats Books.