Fascism and American Reactions, 1922
In the United States, Mussolini’s March on Rome (1922) inspired self-reflection and visions for the near future; some mystically hopeful, others soberly scared.
In late October, 1922, Benito Mussolini followed a column of 30,000 “Black Shirts” into Rome, where he was greeted with an automobile furnished by the King of Italy himself, Victor Emmanuel III. The king refused a petition to declare martial law tendered by the existing government led by Prime Minister Luigi Facta, tacitly recognizing “Fascisti” rule in the personage of the new movement’s leader. In the following months, Mussolini and the Fascists terrorized their enemies throughout Italy and consolidated political power; the movement birthed in Mussolini’s private circles of veterans only a few years earlier bloomed into an international curiosity, “Fascism.” In the United States, American opinion-makers exhibited reactions ranging from shocked disbelief to impartial curiosity and what can properly be described as jubilant and mystical support for a “nation” of people reclaiming their government from leftist radicals and feckless politicians alike. The Kansas City Star identified Mussolini’s fascism with the by-then familiar concept of “100 per cent Americanism,” while joining a host of other observers in praising the Fascist’s unmatched anti-communism and supposed returns to individualism, the rule of law, and respect for private control of property. Papers like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reacted to Mussolini’s rise to power with measured unease rooted in fears of another general European war sparked by Italian conquests along the Adriatic. Even many of those who supported his anti-communism feared Mussolini’s militaristic rhetoric. Common to these accounts is the certainty that fascist success depended upon appeals to the Italian middle class and veterans of the First World War. As such, many American citizens positively identified with the fascist movement and found the events in Italy useful for interpreting their own more immediate, local world. In the years of its infancy, fascism provided Americans with either an image of what they could achieve as a united, 100 per cent American whole, or a portent of disruption, war, and desolation to come.
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
Kansas City Star, 9 August 1922
“Fascisti Idea to Spread—Exiled Russians Would Adopt Plan in Own Country—One Million Men in Italy are Banded Together to Advance Nationalism and War on Socialists and Communists.”
Rome. Aug. 9.—
FOUNDED BY AN EDITOR
Fascism is not three and a half years old, having been founded in Milan by Sig. Mussolini, editor of Popolo d’Italia in April, 1919. The first action took place April 19, immediately after its organization, when only 350 members, all distinguished war veterans, attacked and destroyed the offices of Avanti, a Socialist newspaper. Since then with each attack on anti-national forces, thousands of youths have flocked to Mussolini’s banner, just as sixty-two years ago they flocked to the army of Garibaldi, who started the war of redemption for Italy in Sicili with one thousand men and by the time he reached Naples had nearly one hundred thousand followers.
The Fascisti’s ideals consist of 100 per cent nationalism. They believe in applying patriotism with force; they not only have no patience with 50 per-cent Italianism, but they believe also in clubbing “50 per centers.” They have no special theory of government, but want the best government that is obtainable. For the time being they are monarchial, but if tomorrow they should see that a republic would be better for Italy they would be republicans. What they want is the greatest well being and the maximum prosperity for the nation, not by class struggle, but by co-operation among the various classes.
NOT A SECRET ORGANIZATION.
Fascism is not a secret organization like the Ku Klux Klan, for everybody knows its constitution, and its members wear uniforms which everybody can see. They use illegal means because the constitutional powers do not deal with the situation.
Sig. Mussolini is only 38 years old. Until the end of 1914 he was an ardent Socialist and director of Avanti. The world war converted him to nationalism. He founded the Popolo d’Italia, fought bravely in the war, was elected a deputy at the last elections and is now considered the most powerful man in Italy. One million men obey him without ever questioning his orders.
Dallas Morning News, 21 August 1922
“’Discipline—and Work’ Aim of Italy’s Man of Hour and Fascisti Head”
By the United News.
Rome. Aug. 20.—Benito Mussolini, Italy’s Man of the hour, is planning for the future, when the Fascisti, which he leads, comes into political power, according to him.
The Fascisti, at a word from Mussolini, have laid down their arms and are organizing as a political party. They came into existence in 1919, since when their chief object has been to combat Socialism and Communism.
Mussolini, who shies from interviewers, answered questions briefly.
“What would be the first step you would take if in power?”
“Discipline for all. That covers everything for a beginning.”
“And your foreign policy?”
“Equilibrium and conciliation.”
“What definite steps would you enforce to put Italy on a firm economic basis?”
“Work. Discipline and work. Fascism is great because it is a constructive, creative working force. Italy can be the same.”
Italy’s three political parties will be Mussolini’s, the Popolari and the Socialists.
Of the last named, Mussolini said:
“They have become bourgeois. As soon as they are definitely removed from Bolshevism, need from extreme Fascism will be over.”
Referring to the Popolari, or clericals, Mussolini said: “Priests should celebrate mass and not mix in politics.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 30 October 1922
“Fascisti Leader Backed by 1,000,000 Armed Men is Now Unchallenged Ruler of Italy”
By Paul Scott Mowrer…
Paris. Oct. 30.—Benito Mussolini, leader of the Fascisti, seems to be the unchallenged dictator of Italy.
Owing to the severe censorship that has been established in Italy the news from that country must be taken with some allowance but it appears that the black shirts and army helmets of Benito Mussolini’s nationalist reactionaries are already supreme. The Fascisti, of whom there are said to be 1,000,000, are mobilized. Barracks and armories have been occupied and arms seized…Already masters of Piedmont and Lombardy fascisti hold Florence, Siena and Pisa. In Rome they occupied the railway stations and public buildings until they were taken over by the army, which is honeycombed with fascism.
Made Feeble Protest.
Before disappearing the Facta government made a faint show of resistance and ordered up a poster accusing the Fascisti of sedition and promising to preserve order at all costs. It also desired to proclaim martial law but the King refused to sign the decree. It is therefore Benito Mussolini who has proclaimed and is executing martial law. All the bourses have been closed and Parliament, which was to have reconvened Nov. 7, will probably be dissolved.
Italian Free Masonry has issued a proclamation recognizing the Fascisti movement and the Pope, through the bishop, has appealed for peace and union. The Fascisti have proclaimed loyalty to the King, who is apparently well disposed toward the Fascisti.
The Fascisti program is frankly nationalist and perhaps even reactionary. The Fascisti proclamation announces that “military, political and administrative powers are transferred to a committee of action of four members with dictatorial positions.”
The rights of workers of all categories will be respected, according to the proclamation, which adds that the new regime will be “generous toward nonmilitant adversaries but inexorable toward others.” The aim of the movement is declared to be the “safety and grandeur of Italy.”
The chief points of the interior program appear to be the exaltation of the army and a strong patriotric union of all Italy and especially of the north and south. Fascism originally sprang from the disgust of the moderate conservative elements at the government’s failure to uphold the laws when the workmen seized the factories two years ago and at the apparent powerlessness of the government to repress the communist violence which followed.
Reds Were Fought.
Groups of Fascisti were first formed to combat the reds with their own weapons—assault and riot. They were so successful that communism seems to be effectively rowed in Italy. The army and navy are sympathetic; the organizations of war veterans are on their side and they also claim to have enrolled 800,000 workmen from the labor unions. Their professed desire is to put an end to the undignified feebleness and vaccilation which have marked the Italy policy, not only internal but especially external, ever since the armistice. They promise to insure respect for Italians and Italian interests all over the world…They will insist on greater recognition of Italy’s claims in the Mediterranean and especially in the Adriatic. They demand that Jugo Slavia shall free Montenegro and they talk of annexing Dalmatia.
This program, unless modified, seems somewhat ominous for peace with Italy’s neighbors.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5 November 1922
“Men and Affairs”
Washington, as well as the rest of the United States, has been struggling the past few days to get itself straight on Fascism, the Fascisti and the new Fascist government in Italy. It is not likely, however, that the Fascisti will ever have the vogue in this country that the Bolsheviki had. Americans soon go the idea that the Bolsheviki was somebody against the government, and against everything, so America adopted the word and it is now an indelible part of the English language. It is not so easy to classify or place the Fascisti and Fascist does not roll off the tongue like Bolshevik.
Mussolini, the Fascist premier of Italy, says that Fascism is a purely Italian question that as bolshevism is a purely Russian matter. It is possibly true that bolshevism is a purely Russian matter, but lots of American people have been officially classed by their friends or enemies as Bolsheviks and bolshevicks they will be until they die.
Fascism seems a bit more intricate. It means, as far as can be judged from this distance, Italy for the Italians. The Fascisti in this country call it “America first.” When it was said of Mr. Wilson that he kept us out of the war, it was a fascist sentiment that said it. When it is said of Mr. Harding that he kept us out of the League of Nations, it is again the fascist sentiment that speaks.
There are plenty of the Fascisti in the United States, it seems, but they have always gone under the proud boast of “100 per cent Americans.” The English language appears to grow more and more inelastic. It is pitiful to have to say such awkward compound words as pro-leaguer and anti-leaguer, when in most of the foreign languages an expressive single word would suffice. Of course we have had in this country a faction known as the Wilsonites, but even that is not a pretty word like Fascisti or Bolsheviki.
Some of Premier Mussolini’s political opponents recently accused him of flirting with the Germans and possibly with Russians with the idea of forming an international Fascisti, or a sort of reactionary international movement. He denounces this as absurd, the Fascisti are for Italy first, last and all the time, and the rest of the world can go hang. The Democrats say it was the American Fascisti won the election in 1920.
Portland Morning Oregonian, 6 November 1922
“Revolt Against Socialism”
Both the accession to power of the fascisti in Italy and the defeat of the labor party in the British municipal elections point the same way—revolt against socialism and return to individualism as the way to bring cost of government within revenue and to reduce it further in order to reduce taxes…
National ownership of railroads, telegraphs and telephones, municipal ownership of public utilities and government monopolies of such commodities as tobacco are common in Europe…Fascism began in Italy as a revolt against socialism, and Mussolini evidently intends to go the whole way in restoring the public services and monopolies to private enterprise. That will relieve the government of enormous losses and will remove a horde of people from the public payroll. If the experience of France is an indication, all public services are greatly over-manned…He evidently sees that hard work and economy from the head of the government down to the humblest workman must be combined with that efficiency that is possible only for private enterprise in order that Italy may pay its way, reduce its debts and regain prosperity.
The deplorable fact about this return to economic sanity is that it is undertaken by a distinctly militarist party. If the fascisti should attempt to make good the claim to all the territory that was once Italian, they will embark their country in wars that will destroy all the fruits of their economic reforms.
Duluth New Tribune, 12 November 1922
“Middle Class Takes Fascism to Gain Rights—Revolt in Italy Projected by Underpaid ‘White Collar’ Folk, Says Writer”
By J. W. T. Mason. (Written for the United Press)
The Fascisti success in Italy marks Europe’s turning toward the middle classes. If the young and untried men Premier Mussolini has taken into his cabinet show an ability to handle the technical machinery of government, there will be a full recovery of the economic ground lost by the middle classes during the war.
As Bolshevism was an attack against all classes by the Russian workingmen, so the Fascisti movement is an attack against both the idle rich and overpaid laboring classes by the white collar men.
Mussolini has formed an alliance with various workingmen groups. But, this is for the purpose of using them against the capitalists who crush the middle classes. Mussolini supports the policy of syndicalism. That is to say, he wants the workingmen to have a voice in the management of the factories. By setting workingmen and capitalists thus at odds, Mussolini expects the middle classes to hold the balance of power and acquire more for themselves.
The gravest problem Europe has had to face since the war has been the plight of the white collar classes. The workingmen of Europe have never before had such high wages, measured either by a money standard or by purchasing power. Similarly, the capitalists reaped enormous profits when war prices reigned.
Middle Class Loses.
But, the middle classes have lost ground. Their wages have not kept pace with the increased cost of living. The problem is especially acute in Italy, where middle class technical education has far outrun working class education. Italy in consequence has too many doctors, lawyers and other professional men for the number of inhabitants who have been educated to the point of using their services.
This is the fundamental reason why the middle class revolt against postwar conditions has started in Italy rather than in any other country. There is that additional burden for the middle class Italians to bear. If Mussolini can solve his own middle class problem, therefore, other countries will be incited to taking action themselves, since their own difficulties are not so complicated.
Only Hope of Recovery.
Without a recovery of the European middle classes, it is hopeless to expect the world ever to get to right. The cultural responsibilities of the middle classes will not be assumed by the other classes. The white collar men alone among the Europeans are willing to make sacrifices for social progress as distinct from economic progress.
But, under the financial burdens imposed on them by the war, they have been unable to do much more than keep alive. They are wearing the same old clothes, concealing their poverty as best they can.
They are now reaching the end of their patience. The Fascisti movement represents to them the possibility of successful self-assertion. For that reason, Italy has suddenly become the middle class leader for all Europe.
San Jose (CA) Mercury Herald, 25 November 1922
“The Cure for Bolshevism”
Five years ago—and less—Europe meditated in anguished accents the need of a defensive front against the advance of bolshevism. Today, communism, through its third international, searches fanatically for means to combat the tide of fascism. This is as it should be. The pendulum swings.
So long as communism is only the goal of a fraction of the world’s population it was inevitable that it should flow back to its mean limits. So long as fascism is only the goal of a part of the population, that, too, in time, must flow back to its boundaries. Fascism came into existence as a result of communism, the disease gave birth to the remedy.
Fascism is not far removed from normalcy; it is the existing order reduced to the terms of the small merchant and wage-earner who does not believe in millenniums but clings pathetically to the practical need of three meals a day. Bolshevism in Italy brought starvation and chaos, fascism drove out communism, which is in hiding, and reasserts popular authority. There is only one weapon bolshevism can use to repel advances against it and recapture its superficial influence, and that is to abandon communism. The majority, where not held in subjection as in Russia, inevitably asserts its desires.
Communism, on the fact of the facts, is not one of them.
Grand Forks Herald, 31 December 1922
“Letter Tells of Conditions Now in Italy”
An interesting letter has been received from Mrs. Gerda Hellberg Castelli of Rome…written of the conditions and especially the “Fascisti” in Italy, to Mrs. R. D. Campbell of this city. Mrs. Castelli and Captain Castelli will be remembered as residents here some years ago…
The letter follows:
“We, both my husband and I, are great ‘Fascisti’ and bless Mussolini who swept away the clique of rotten and selfish and incompetent politicians! I do not marvel if the countries abroad do not understand all what this means and have to judge ‘Fascisti,’ but one who has lived here for long and knows the Italians, feels that such a marvelous movement could not grow up so quick in any other country but Italy. It has been grand to witness, and I was sorry my husband way away at a congress in Bologna just the days of the ‘revolution!’ Because such it was, but one where not a workman went on strike, not a peasant left off work; it was done before they had time to think and move. Both peasant and workman of the saner type were glad for and desired the change, as it was felt everywhere Italy had no government at all! And chaos cannot last for long. And really it is quite a spiritual movement as well as patriotic, and idealistic, and we needed that badly after all these years of demagogism and party Socialism, and the world everywhere needs a bit of ‘Fascism,’ it seems to me.
“Mussolini is marvelous, so far at least; he speaks in a manner quite new (and more honest) to diplomacy and commands respect just for his fearless outspokenness. It is quite a pleasure to read the papers, now. And to see some sixty thousand young, fine and handsome men between eighteen and thirty years go in cortege in the Corso the 31st of October was a sight not to be forgotten. Half a million young men dead in the war, and yet so many fine ones left! Really, this country is inexhaustible!
Wants G. F. News.
“I am looking forward to seeing Ruth Carothers here a hear news about all in Grand Forks which we keep in such a good memory! I wonder if we ever shall come over to the United States again. I would like it very much, I assure you…
“And here in Rome the sun shines always this autumn; such lovely weather we are having.
“Now I must stop, with best wishes for a happy Christmas and good New Year to Dr. Campbell and yourself from us both.
“Always yours sincerely,
—“Gerda Hellberg Castelli.”