Rozsa, George Gregory 1 Red Storm Rising

Revolutions are not made by first summoning an assembly in order to discuss whether one should or should not make a revolution1

As late as October 1920, Italy appeared to be spiraling down the path of Bolshevism, which had gripped all of Europe following the fall of Russia in 1917. The Socialist Party was preaching a revolutionary rhetoric, calling on workers to “(forcibly) overthrow … the bourgeois state and (inaugurate) the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Elazar, “Union” 609). The threat of revolution was bolstered by the conservative press’ daily accounts of Bolshevik advances (Squeri 325). Even the government took pains to prepare for the inevitable “Bolshevik peril” as contingency plans were drawn up in anticipation of soldier defections to the revolutionary cause (Mondini 457). Historian Gaetano Salvermini, however, described the mental state of post-war Italy as a patient suffering from neurasthenia, who “mistakenly believed that there had been a great danger of revolution” (Squeri 326). By October 1922, these fears had dissipated. Mussolini was marching on Rome – the danger had passed. In the span of two short years Italy had gone from one political extreme to another. Questions surrounding the origins of Italian fascism and its subsequent takeover of Italy spark lively academic debate to this day, and generally fall under one of three competing theories: class, rational choice, or civil society.2 While these theories disagree on the motivations of the actors involved, they share one common premise: fascism’s greatest success and support came from former Socialist strongholds, where as Juan Linz proposed, “the labor movement held on to a maximalist revolutionary rhetoric” (Brustein 652). In order to understand the origins of Italian fascism, one must first understand the socialist threat it rose to counter. This paper examines the rise of revolutionary socialism and the threat it posed to the hegemony of the existing power structure. Revolutionary socialism was a product of maximalist thought and ideology, which held that workers’ direct action and militancy through trade unionization was the principal force behind revolutionary change. They differed from reformists who “saw the struggle for socialism in evolutionary rather than revolutionary terms … that the class struggle should be fought
1

As cited in Seton Watson and Christopher (565) concerning one striker’s growing frustration with union leaders’ concessions during the Occupation of the Factories in Turin, 1920. 2 Class theories focus on alliances, predominately of a weak bourgeoisie and a strong agrarian class against the working proletariat. Rational choice theories emphasize the material self-interests of rational voters, while civil society theories differ in that they pay particular attention to the way in which a society’s civic associations tend to foster democracy or the lack thereof (Wellhofer 91).

emphasis mine). the IM “had a significant modernizing effect. As a result. These committees in effect legitimized the forthcoming factory councils. which developed soon after the war (Tomassini and Frost 83).” within the maximalist camp. but the war and more . Protest 34). Regional Committees for Industrial Mobilization were formed to settle labor disputes and to ensure a reliable level of production. not that workers could strike under the stringent rules of the IM. Turin and Milan had become “theaters of major industrial struggle. Italy was the only major country to enter the war “without being able to count on the support of (its) most important working class party” (Tomassini and Frost 62). To stem the PSI’s influence of revolutionary socialism from seeping into organized labor. PSI) and the progressive wing of the Liberals. During the war. the reformists had regained their position of power. During the Libyan War of 1911.” tantamount to desertion and punishable “by the extremely harsh military penal code” (Tomassini and Frost 63). the reformists established the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (General Confederation of Labor. however. an alliance. which would manifest itself in the working class militancy in the years following the war.Rozsa. Italy’s first national trade union (Davis 194). eventually taking control of the Party in 1903. a newly formed administrative branch of the Ministry of War designed to ensure workplace discipline (Tomassini and Frost 63. Under the IM. Maximalists who supported intervention channeled this newly formed labor militancy into a general strike and used their growing influence to oust the reformists from the Party. the PSI pledged. CGL). contributing to the formation of a new working class … a very strong cohesive element. and Radicals. Democrats. Consequently. George Gregory 2 through the institutions of the bourgeois state” (Davis 188). The tenuous relationship between the maximalist-led PSI and reformist-led CGL was down-right hostile at times. industrial production was placed under the protection of the Industrial Mobilization (IM). “Neither support nor sabotage” (Procacci. World War I brought a temporary reprieve to the infighting between the reformists and maximalists as both the PSI and CGL stood steadfastly and openly against the war. This disposition towards collaboration led to a paradoxical alliance in 1901 between the reformist-led Partito Socialista Italiano (Italian Socialist Party. Despite its opposition to the war. reformists came under attack from both conservatives outside of the Party and from maximalists within it. Over the next two years they battled reformists for leadership of the PSI. where “leaving one’s place of work was forbidden. which the maximalists saw as a betrayal of their revolutionary socialistic ideals. wages and contracts were frozen. encouraging working-class solidarity” (Tomassini and Frost 68).

686 workers (Lewin and Elazar 603). a viable “indication of class-consciousness and militancy” (lewin and Elazar 595).156 in 1920 to 512.864 in 1919 encompassing an impressive 1.2 million by 1920.Rozsa. The Party’s manifesto explicitly denounced collaboration with bourgeois institutions and dictated that the proletariat “be incited to the violent seizure of political and economic power.” which must then “be handed over entirely and exclusively to the workers’ and peasants’ councils” (Lewin and Elazar 609). witnessed the revolutionary transformation of previously non-revolutionary workers through their collective action (Lewin and Elazar 598). therefore. These conditions underwrote the Italian “diciannovismo (‘1919sim’) … the biennio rosso… the ‘revolutionary yearning for a change. Marx identified. As a result of this mass participation of these . the collectivization of land. Trotsky also saw strikes as the embodiment of “the first form of workers’ collective struggle …” and as such. they established the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and promoted the creation of a socialist state (Procacci.6 million in 1913 to 11. and the promotion of revolution” (Wellhofer 102). After reclaiming the Party’s leadership in October 1919. “an authentic expression of worker’s discontent” in strike activity. Interventionism 167). The PSI was well adept at converting workers’ economic struggles into political gain. They were both greatly assisted by the abysmal living conditions in the aftermath of the war. which saw wave after wave of riots following widespread food and energy shortages.260 by the end of 1921.’” which saw the number of strikes increase from 313 in 1918. Lenin. marking the “entrance of the masses to the historical stage” (Lewin and Elazar 602). Following the war the PSI campaigned effectively for electoral reform. then doubled between 1919 and 1920 alone.498. involving 158. granted universal male suffrage and proportional representation thus increasing Italy’s electorate from 8. Between 1913 and 1919.711 strikers to 1. The maximalists took their cue from Marx. George Gregory 3 significantly. “a form of direct struggle between workers and capitalists in the sphere of production (Lewin and Elazar 598). who now urged for the “proletarianization of rural workers. the cost of living increased four-fold. Lenin. and Trotsky. Strike activity was the key to revolutionary change. the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia had galvanized the maximalists. which would “obstruct and paralyze the experiment of social democracy” through direct worker-action and strike activity (Lewin and Elazar 609). it became the modus operandi of both the maximalist Socialist Party and its reformist-led trade union. which once enacted in 1919. more importantly. the CGL. Wages failed to keep up with inflation and the number of unemployed rose from 102.

just two months prior to the local elections and at the height of the industrial strikes. S. and deep rancor” (Lewin and Elazar 606). and 156 seats in parliament. the National Federation of Land Workers who organized it. the PSI received over a third of the votes cast. recognition of Socialist-controlled trade unions. which dictated how many employees the landlord had to employ per acre of farmland. chemical.” The strike. number of workers involved. the PSI refused to seat their elected deputies. which L. the magnitude of which. and damaging of these were the Great Agricultural Strike and the Occupation of the Factories of 1920. which it saw as a phase in the revolutionary struggle” . led by the Federazione Italiana operai metallurgica (FIOM. Under their new contracts. George Gregory 4 newly enfranchised voters. approximately 1. “the PSI embraced the strike. effectively nullifying their newly won political clout at the national level. sharecroppers received 60% of the harvest. rubber and ship-building industries” (Lewin and Elazar 605). Salvatorelli and G. and the collocamento di classe.865 strikers (Lewin and Elazar 603). J.903. The Great Agricultural Strike began in February 1920 as sharecroppers and agricultural workers went on strike demanding a more favorable renegotiation of their existing contracts and “the right to impose their conditions of work on the employers. The strike. due to its maximalist line against participation in the bourgeois state. effective. the absolute number of strikes rose to 2054 involving 1. the PSI and CGL continued making stabs at the bourgeois heart in the economic sphere. the right to control the local labor market through the imponible della mano d’ opera. was a huge success for the Federterra.Rozsa. Where the PSI sought political gain from the workers’ strike activity. what in fact the Socialists accomplished “was not ‘revolution’ but … abstention” (Lewin and Elazar 608). up from 50% the year before. ruined crops. In September 1920. and consequent damages – were unprecedented …” and at their height “involved more than half a million workers in the metal. Notwithstanding their abstention from politics in the bourgeois arena. and cost the landowners over 120 million lira (Squeri 330). While the pace of strike activity slowed between 1919 and 1920. Sprigge expressed. initiated what was to become known as the Occupation of the Factories. however. The most impressive. and most importantly. Eventually. the Federation of Metallurgical Workers) and supported by Antonio Gramsci.8 million. Gramsci saw potential for real change among the social relations of production and championed a more revolutionary role for the unions.” lasted for over six months and left in its wake “human victims. however. which centralized labor assignments effectively guaranteeing an equal distribution of work (Lewin and Elazar 606). Mira described as an “exasperating struggle. metallurgical workers of Turin. As C. “in terms of duration.

Carl Levy notes that Milanese workers refused to strike in solidarity even as the city was being besieged by the military authorities (185). and 54 of Bologna’s 61 communes (Squeri 328). the “red baronies. In some of the reddest provinces. As late as April 1920. Following their impressive victories in the local elections. Their greatest support. however.” according to Elazar.” The Party won on a truly “radical platform … (that) called for the collectivization of the land and industrial workers’ participation in factory management. and 30% of Umbria’s. the revolutionary potential of the occupations was not universally embraced as Donald Bell notes. sort of a “state of anticipation. all of Rovigo’s 63 communes.” the PSI nearly won complete control. “It is clear from local press accounts that the Occupation was not viewed by most working-class leaders in terms of potential revolution. Prior to the occupations. however. In Emilia.” which Paolo Spriano saw as a “a kind of dress rehearsal for revolution” (Squeri 327). and even though Federico Chabod saw them as the denouement of the Socialists’ revolutionary drama. Unlike their victories in the 1919 national elections. strikers in both Milan and Turin “carried out (their strikes) separately and in a certain sense in competition with each other” (Levy 185).” which they deemed as a necessary precursor to a “second Bolshevik revolution in Italy” (Elazar 474). “the Socialist victories of 1920 were immediately disturbing” to the conservatives because the “(v)arious threats that had always loomed on the far horizon now seemed ready to materialize” (Squeri 330). George Gregory 5 (Lewin and Elazar 609). 32% of Lombardy’s. Fransozi believed that the occupations brought Italy to the verge of civil war (Lewin and Elazar 605). all of Ferrara’s 21 communes. R. which lasted long after the moment had passed (326). came from the northern and central regions where large commercial estates employed wage-laborers. What made the occupations distinct from previous strike activity was its spontaneous and co-coordinated nature. Frank Snowden also noted that “the League of Socialist Communes declared: ‘The Socialist administrations intend to represent the working class exclusively. “The factory occupations. over 50% of Tuscany’s. Lawrence Squeri notes that both Chabod and Renzo DeFelice felt they had left a lingering paranoia of revolution. but remained distinctly within the trade union bounds” (7). the socialists’ captured 80% or 223 of its constituent 280 communes. Others disagreed. “provided a major impetus for the Socialist victory in the Administrative elections of 1920. The PSI won a total of 25 of Italy’s 69 provincial councils and 2162 of the countries 8059 communal governments. during the demonstrations in Turin.’ in accordance with ‘the new communist law’ that places the needs of the .Rozsa.

“Local power would serve the class struggle and further the interests of the proletariat” (Squeri 331). The conservative press bolstered bourgeois fears by proclaiming the Socialists would force huge loans from the middle class and warned that they “would ruin depositors by seizing the assets of municipal banks. but those that were had municipalized the gas and electricity industry and operated “municipal ovens.” however. their primary concern came over “confiscatory taxation” (Squeri 331). and special measures to reduce tax evasion. selling milk. (E 475) . ‘constantly gave in’ to the Socialists’ demands (E474) Premier Giolitti took extensive measures against the propertied class and enacted a series of prolabour reforms. Bologna’s maximalists proposed to socialize housing and water to alleviate shortages of each while paying for them through “forced-gifts” from local banks. Ferrara’s program went even further to include “the creation of a proletarian militia. George Gregory 6 community ‘absolutely above the right of private property’” (Elazar 474). While the maximalist program approved of tax hikes well above statutory limitations. Wartime sanctions and post-war recession had a detrimental effect at the communal level leaving budgetary deficits. The conservatives had a reason to fear as Squeri observes that few provincial capitals were in the hands of socialist administrations prior the 1920. expropriation of war pro.12 These included an increased taxation of wealth.Rozsa. capital levy. Both Socialist-run municipalities and cooperatives posed threats to private industry in the form of “unwelcome competition. At the same time these radical changes were taking place. Italy’s Liberal government. mills. ts. increase of death duties. and ice factories as well as retail outlets for food. compulsory accident insurance. Giolitti also reduced state subsidies to industry and nominated a special commission of deputies and senators to ‘investigate and revise’ the state’s war contracts with owners of heavy industry But perhaps the most signifcant act was Giolitti’s official recognition of peasant leagues and labour unions. higher taxation of high incomes. and firewood” (331). representing the dominant class. and bread cheaper than private enterprises (Lewin and Elazar 606).” This self-fulfilling prophecy was realized in Modena as “worried depositors withdrew savings from local banks” (Squeri 333). meat. He refused to interfere on behalf of the agrari beset by strikes. cool. or to aid the industrialists during the Occupation of the Factories. employers’ participation in old age and disability insurance. which could only be made up through increased tax revenue. the maximalist press was explicit. Socialist-run cooperatives posed an additional threat.” which would take over and ensure the transfer of power from the prefectures and parliament once the uprising had begun (Squeri 331). pharmacies.

Rozsa. George Gregory 7 .

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful